How To Avoid Greenwashing Sin #6: Fibbing

by Owner on June 5, 2009

As we near the end of our greenwashing series, we take a look at the sixth sin of greenwashing identified by Terrachoice’s research: the sin of fibbing. Terrachoice (thankfully) found this sin in less than 1% of green product claims it evaluated.

I’ll be less polite than Terrachoice and call the sin by its more common name: Lying.

Sometimes the green claims on a product aren’t “merely” irrelevant, vague, or lacking in proof. Sometimes they’re just simply false. No attempt is made to try to relate them to some truthful fact, no matter how tenuous the connection. The claim is simply fabricated out of thin air in hopes of deceiving the consumer into buying something she believes to be green.

Some examples Terrachoice cited from its research included:

  • Shampoos claiming to be “certified organic” when no evidence existed of such certification;
  • A caulking product listed as “Energy Star” compliant, when a search on Energy Star’s website showed that was not the case;
  • A dish washing detergent claiming to be packaged in “100% recycled paper” when the product’s container was plastic!

Green lies are sometimes easy to detect, like the dishwashing detergent I mentioned. Others are not, since many consumers are not likely to go to Energy Star’s website or otherwise do the research needed to discover that the green claim is a lie.

If products lie about their dangers or negative effects on humans, a flurry of lawsuits and regulations eventually take care of the problem (at least in the US). But nobody can hear the environment scream, and there are often no cohesive government regulations to ensure that green lies and other distortions are punished and fixed. (That’s beginning to change in the US and some other countries.) The burden falls on consumers and watchdog groups to reveal the truth.

Here are a few ideas for avoiding this sixth sin of greenwashing:

  • Evaluate the green claim on its face. If a product claims recycled paper packaging when it’s actually plastic, the fibbing is clear.
  • Do your research. If a product claims to be certified by Energy Star, Green Seal or some other well-known certification, verify the claim. Most of these eco labels have websites that list products receiving certification.
  • Check anti-fraud groups and their websites. There are non-profit watchdog groups out there that look after the consumer by exposing fraudulent claims. One great example is the Environmental Working Group in the US. These groups provide their research findings and anti-fraud watch lists online, which can be an excellent resource for people trying to get at the truth about green claims.

Green fibbing doesn’t happen much compared to the other sins, but when it does it strikes at the core of people trying to do the right thing by the environment. It lends itself to people becoming cynical about the green movement. Hopefully, increasing government involvement and continued consumer and watchdog vigilance will keep green lies on products to an absolute minimum.

Sixth 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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How To Avoid Greenwashing Sin #3: Vagueness | EcoVillageGreen
June 18, 2009 at 12:52 pm

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LG Fraud Victim June 6, 2009 at 9:36 am

Thank you for your continued focus on these important issues. While the Sins of Greenwashing report does not mention it, LG Electonics “unintentional” misinformation about their products’ Energy Star ratings is a good example of the Sin of Fibbing. ‘

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