How To Avoid Greenwashing Sin #4: Irrelevance

by Owner on May 20, 2009

This fourth installment in our greenwashing series looks at Terrachoice’s Fourth Sin of Greenwashing: The Sin of Irrelevance. (Links to other installments are at the end of the article). Terrachoice found evidence of this sin in 4% of all environmental claims made on products it researched.

This sin of irrelevance is defined as making an environmental claim about a product that may be true on its face, but is unimportant or unhelpful for people seeking environmentally friendly products.

The most often cited example is the claim on many products that they are “CFC-free:”


While that sounds interesting and very green, the claim is irrelevant simply because ALL products currently on the market are CFC-free. CFC’s (chlorofluorocarbons) were found to be a main contributor to depleting the Earth’s ozone layer and were banned almost thirty years ago.

Nevertheless, many companies persist in adding this irrelevant label on their products, hoping to give them an environmentally friendly “aura” and thereby fool consumers into thinking they’re buying something especially green. Terrachoice found insecticides, lubricants, oven cleaners, shaving gels, window cleaners and disinfectants to be particularly likely to sport this irrelevant label.

This sin isn’t terribly common, but it also isn’t very easy to detect. Many people may not know that CFC’s were banned, for example. In an effort to do good, people may fall for something that sounds green and good without realizing the irrelevance of the claim.

So how do we avoid the sin of irrelevance?

  • Ask yourself if all other products in the same category as the one in question could make the same claim. If so, then the claim is irrelevant and meaningless because it doesn’t say anything special about the product. The claim may require you to do a bit of research, but you should feel totally confident in disregarding the “CFC-free” label in particular.
  • Ask yourself if the claim is relevant and important to the product. Have a dishwasher with an “all natural” claim? A TV that promises water efficiency benefits? You may want to be suspicious of such claims! Generally, if the claim seems illogical or not applicable to the product, it’s probably irrelevant.
  • Comparison-shop. If you find the same claim made on every product in its class, it’s probably irrelevant.

Next week we’ll take a look at the Fifth Sin of Greenwashing: the Lesser of Two Evils. Stay tuned!

Fourth 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

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