Seven Not So Deadly, but Rather, Annoying Sins

By Adam Eisman – Contributing Writer
Posted on Sunday 3rd May 2009

It’s no secret that the green movement has moved past the original core of hard-nosed eco-warriors and into the mainstream American conscience. The demand for “green” products has jumped significantly in the past few years, with the rate of green advertising having tripled since 2006. The only problem with this is that the entrepreneurial spirit of many American businesses trumps their efforts to make the world more sustainable.

According to a respected member of the green community, TerraChoice Environmental Marketing, almost 98% of products labeled “green” have marketed themselves in a misleading manner, convincing people they are buying sustainably when they are most certainly not. This practice is called “Green Washing.” The new report by TerraChoice had to add a seventh category for the types of misleading information companies are putting on labels. After their first report in 2007, there were only six. The most common products that are misleadingly labeled are kids’ toys, baby products, cosmetics and cleaning supplies.

To better understand the pitfalls that consumers may face when making an eco-purchase, listed below are the seven sins of green marketing. (The percentages that follow the sin are the concentration of products using this anti-green tactic.)

  1. The Hidden Trade-Off (73%) – At times, companies selectively focus on an environmental benefit of a product while ignoring the more prodigious negative effects of the same product. For instance, paper can be harvested sustainably from a forest, but unless the company also focuses on the energy used, the greenhouse gases emitted, and water and air pollution that are a result, the product will most likely have a net negative impact on the earth.

  2. No Proof (59%) – Many companies eschew the scientific approach to proof, and just flat-out claim things that have not been verified by third-party entities. This applies largely to facial and toilet tissues, which at times, claim to be made of a certain percentage of recycled material, though no proof of this exists.

  3. Vagueness (56%) – The phrase “all-natural” can be a misleading one, as it does not necessarily mean that is safe. After all, arsenic, uranium and mercury are all naturally occurring, but you wouldn’t want them in your hand soap or bed frame.

  4. Worshipping False Labels (24%) – Don’t get lulled in by a fancy, seemingly official, seal of approval, unless it comes from a reputable third-party source. Many companies’ marketers have dreamed up their own seals that verify nothing, except the lengths they are willing to go to cash in on something they don’t really care about.

  5. Irrelevance (8%) – Many companies like to show that there product is free of certain nasty chemicals of acronyms to prove they took the time to take these things out. However, some have taken the time to announce the non-existence of things that they are required by law not to use. “CFC-free” is a frequent example of irrelevant information, since Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) are banned by law in the United States.

  6. Lesser of Two Evils (4%) – This holds mostly for the automotive industry, as it proposes the purchase of the lesser of two evils, instead of a product that is actually sustainable. If an SUV with a hybrid engine gets a few more miles per gallon than its competition, that’s all well and good, but still dismally poor when compared to other automobiles on the road. Raising your MPG to just above 20 is no reason to celebrate.

  7. Fibbing (0%) – Marketers have become savvy enough to be able to lie without it being overt or obvious, however some people like to take shortcuts. Instead of trying to construe a product a certain way using the facts at hand, some companies have taken outright lying. Claims of Energy Star qualification and sustainable production are out there for products that are no such thing.

Make sure you do your homework when purchasing green, because we should all start to realize this prescient truth: Every purchase you make is a carbon decision. The labels that you can trust include: Forest Stewardship Council, Green Guard, Green Seal, Sustainable Forestry Initiative, EPA’s Design for Environment, Ecocert, Energy Star, EPEAT, USDA Organic, EPA’s WaterSense, and EcoLogo.

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