Daily Archives: June 18, 2008

Greenwashing: A Brief Introduction

Since I like to talk about Green a lot (and will have some posts in the near future about Green IT and how it can save you money while saving the planet), I thought I should write a post about greenwashing. Greenwashing is a practice used by a company to mislead consumers about the environmental benefits of a product or service. A common example of greenwashing is when a company tells you a product is “certified organic” even when there is no verifiable certification. However, this is not the only common example of greenwashing (or the green sheen) that you are likely to encounter. As noted in Wikipedia, a recent study by TerraChoice called The Six Sins of Greenwashing surveyed 1,018 randomly selected common consumer products found that 99% of them were guilty of greenwashing. As a result, they formulated the six sins of greenwashing which were:

  • Sin of the Hidden Trade-Off
    Many “Energy-Efficient” electronics contain hazardous materials (which would likely be banned in the EU under RoHS, WEE, and / or REACH)
  • Sin of No Proof
    Many products, like shampoos, claim to be “certified organic” but the company does not have any verifiable (third party) certifications.
  • Sin of Vagueness
    Products are advertised as 100% natural even though many naturally occurring substances (like arsenic, formaldehyde, and cyanide)
  • Sin of Irrelevance
    For example, claiming products are CFC-free, even though CFCs were banned 20 years ago.
  • Sin of Fibbing
    Claiming your product is certified by an internationally recognized environmental standard like EcoLogo, Energy Star, and Green Seal.
  • Sin of Lesser of Two Evils
    For example, “organic cigarettes” or “environmentally friendly” pesticides. WTF?!?

So how can you identify greenwashing? A page over on Green Home Beta has some tips you can use to find the real green amongst the wannabes. They included:

  • First, remember that not everything that claims to be green or sustainable actually is.
  • Consult Greenpeace’s Greenwash Detection Kit
  • Keep your eyes on CorpWatch’s Greenwash Awards.
  • Check out the University of Oregon’s Greenwashing index.
  • Check the Unsuitablog which is updated regularly with greenwashing examples and which also contains a post on How to Spot Greenwash.
  • Finally, be suspicious of all environmental campaigns. If a company is going overboard trying to sell its green credentials, ask yourself why? What are they trying to hide? Use your instincts. If it doesn’t feel right, then it probably isn’t.