For our seventh installment in our greenwashing series we look at Terrachoice’s Seventh Sin Of Greenwashing: Worshiping False Labels, a new sin that has arisen as a result of increased interest in and demand for green products.
Terrachoice’s first research report came out in 2007 and identified the six greenwashing sins identified in the previous six articles (a full list of which is at the bottom of this post.) In early 2009 Terrachoice published a second report which looked at what had happened in the interim. The latter report found some good news: the number of “green” products is exploding in response to consumer demand.
While greenwashing is still a major problem, legitimate eco-labeling became almost twice as common in 2009 as it was in 2007, with 23% of products reviewed listing a valid eco label. That’s great for consumers trying to bring method to the madness of green shopping, because it brings the light of meaningful third-party certification to an increasing number of truly green products. Valid eco labels help shoppers tell the difference between the green and the greenwashed.
Hearing the clamor from consumers for eco labels, some product marketers are unfortunately trying to create the impression, through words and images, that a valid third-party green endorsement has been given when no such endorsement actually exists. In other words, these companies are slapping fake green labels on their products. Fully 23% of green products evaluated by Terrachoice in its latest report committed this sin of worshiping false labels.
Examples cited included:
- A US brand of aluminum foil with certification-like images referring to the name of the company’s in-house environmental program without giving any explanation about what that meant.
- A Canadian paper towel product that made the bold claim “this product fights global warming.”
- Various products using certification-like images with green buzz words like “eco safe,” “eco secure” or “eco preferred”–all of which are meaningless without context or proof.
It’s inevitable that companies try to tap into increasing demand for green products, but applying a label that looks official to convince the customer of a product’s green credentials is not the way to go.
So how do you avoid this last sin of greenwashing? The only real solution is to become aware of what is considered a good, independently verified eco label and what is not. Here are six major eco labels to look for when doing your shopping:
- Green Seal, found primarily on cleaning and building products. I’ve talked a lot about it here at EcoVillageGreen because I consider it one of the gold standards for eco labels.
- GreenGuard, also used on cleaning and building products, including low-VOC paint.
- EcoLogo, a meaningful Canadian eco label for a wide variety of products.
- Energy Star, a US government label for energy efficient appliances.
- WaterSense, a US government label for water-saving faucets.
- USDA Organic, a US government label for organic foods.
There are other meaningful eco labels that will be covered in future EcoVillageGreen posts, but this short list is a good place to start. If you see an eco label you don’t recognize, be suspicious and do your research. It may be good–but it could just as easily be made up and therefore meaningless.
Seventh 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