Today we look at the second sin of greenwashing identified by Terrachoice, and second in our greenwashing series: the Sin of No Proof. Terrachoice identified this sin as the second most common way in which companies mislabel their products as green, with 26% of evaluated products falling into this greenwashing trap.
The Sin of No Proof is just what it sounds like: it’s when products make green claims that cannot be verified by easily accessible confirming information, or by reliable third-party certification. “No proof” means lack of proof on the product package, surrounding sales copy, or on the product’s website.
Examples cited of this sin included:
- household lamps and bulbs that promote energy efficiency without offering any evidence or certification;
- personal care products that claim no animal testing but offer no proof or third-party verification;
- paper towels and tissues claiming post-consumer recycled content without offering any evidence.
I’m sure we can think of many other examples.
It’s not that companies offering these products are necessarily lying (that’s a separate sin altogether.) They may well be telling the truth, but they’re asking that consumers take their claims on faith, rather than offering hard evidence to allow consumers to make up their own minds.
Sometimes this may be because it’s difficult to provide the proof. For example, a meaningful certification may not exist for the claim in question, so that there is no objective label a company can apply. But other claims should be relatively easy to prove–surely a cosmetics company could come up with some objective third party to come into its labs and confirm that delicate rabbit eyes are not being used in testing their latest mascara.
So how do we fight this second sin of greenwashing, and avoid falling into the trap of no proof? Here are some ideas:
1) “Where’s the beef?” Do what the ladies in the old Wendy’s commercials did: demand to be shown the proof. Where is the proof of the claim in question? Look at the product’s labeling, the marketing materials surrounding the product at the store, and of course on the product’s website. If you can’t find it, write to the company and demand it.
2) Research the product. The Internet is a wonderful way for other people to weigh in on consumer products. What are other people saying about the proof offered by a product? Why is there no proof–is it impossible to provide? If there is offered proof, is it valid? Is that green certification on the product actually meaningful?
3) Buyer beware. If you don’t find good proof, then don’t deceive yourself about what you’re getting. The product MAY truly be green, or it may not. Maybe it’s somewhat greener than the conventional product next to it, while still having some problems of its own.
As always, refusing to buy the product–especially with a strongly worded message to the company–is the best way to discourage this greenwashing practice.
Second in a series. The full list:
How To Avoid Greenwashing Sin #1: The Hidden Trade-Off
How To Avoid Greenwashing Sin #2: No Proof
How To Avoid Greenwashing Sin #3: Vagueness
How To Avoid Greenwashing Sin #4: Irrelevance
How To Avoid Greenwashing Sin #5: Lesser Of Two Evils
How To Avoid Greenwashing Sin #6: Fibbing
How To Avoid Greenwashing Sin #7: Worshiping False Labels
Is A Greener Product Green Enough? Our Greenwashing Series Wrap-Up