Thursday, May 5, 2011

Your greenwashing guide

In this season of spring cleaning a posting on green washing is timely. Although green washing isn’t an eco-friendly sort of cleaning. It's a wool-over-your-eyes sort of marketing intended to dupe consumers with eco-friendly intentions into buying green-sounding products and services.

Green washing is when companies deliberately mislead consumers about their environmental practices or the environmental benefits of a product or service. These claims make companies and products more appealing to consumers who are trying to make better choices. The term was coined by Terra Choice, an environmental marketing company that for the past few years has published a report about the state of “green” product marketing in Canada.

According to Terra Choice there were 73% more “green” products on the market in 2010 than there were in 2009. This is great news since companies are responding to increased consumer demand for more eco-friendly products and services. But it also means that it is more challenging than ever to separate the good from the not so good. To help consumers find their way among the “green” sounding products available today Terra Choice publishes “The sins of green washing”, a guide of sorts that points out what to beware of when you’re scouting eco-friendly products.

Below are two of the more common of the seven “sins” of green washing identified by Terra Choice:

The Sin of no proof - This is when products make claims that are not substantiated or supported by credible third-party certification. Product labels aren’t regulated so companies can pretty much claim what they want. Credible certification programs are the only way to back up these claims.

The Sin of Vagueness - The best example of this is when a product (usually a personal care product) claims to be all natural. Many toxic compounds are natural but certainly not “green” including the examples given by Terra Choice like arsenic, uranium, mercury, and formaldehyde. In this case consumers and companies have very different definitions of “all natural”.

Here are some tips to help you make more informed decisions when you’re looking to buy eco-friendly products and services:

Rely on legitimate eco certification labels. The EcoLogo symbol is a trusted and recognized certification program for everything from cleaning products to paint. Green Seal is another. If a product doesn’t back up its claim of being eco-friendly, environmentally-friendly, green, or earth-friendly then there is a good chance they’re simply riding the green wave of popularity. You’re better off choosing a product that’s certified.

For food, the packaging must state “Certified organic” to be truly organic. Any other use of the word organic is meaningless. The term “organic” is also meaningless outside of the food and botanicals spheres.

Certified organic botanicals in personal care products are great but don’t lose sight of how safe the other ingredients are (or aren’t).

For more information on green washing and credible certification standards and labels visit

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