Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Six Sins of Greenwashing

This is an excellent and interesting research result from TerraChoice environmental marketing agency. They did the research to describe, understand, and quantify the growth of greenwashing. 1,018 consumer products bearing 1,753 environmental claims in North America were examined and they found all but one committed at least to one of the six sins of greenwashing.

Greenwash is the act of misleading customers regarding the environmental practices of a company or the environmental benefits of a product or service. The six sins are:

  1. Sin of the hidden trade-off. This sin is committed by suggesting a product is green based on a single environmental attribute or an unreasonably narrow set of attributes without attention to other important or more important environmental issues. The example is paper that promotes its recycled content or sustainable harvesting practices without attention to manufacturing impacts.
  2. Sin of no proof. Any environmental claim that cannot be substantiated by easily accessible supporting information or by a reliable third-party certification is included in this category. A good example is lights that promote energy efficiency without any supporting evidence or certification.
  3. Sin of vagueness. This is committed by every claim that is so poorly defined or broad that its real meaning is likely to be misunderstood by the intended consumer. A good example is an "all natural" label. Arsenic is natural, but it is poisonous.
  4. Sin of irrelevance. The Sin of Irrelevance is committed by making an environmental claim that may be truthful but is unimportant and unhelpful for consumers seeking environmentally preferable products. The easiest example is CFC-free claims. It has been banned for 30 years, there is no product that is manufactured with it.
  5. Sin of lesser of two evils. These are "green" claims that may be true within the product category, but that risk distracting the consumer from the greater environmental impacts of the category as a whole. Examples include organic cigarettes and green insecticides.
  6. Sin of fibbing. The Sin of Fibbing is committed by making environmental claims that are simply false. The example is misusing of certification by an independent authority.
I encourage you to download and read the whole report from TerraChoice website here.

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