Terra Choice: Six Sins of Greenwashing
Sin of the Hidden Trade-Off
e.g. Paper (including household tissue, paper towel and copy paper): “Okay, this product comes from a sustainably harvested forest, but what are the impacts of its milling and transportation? Is the manufacturer also trying to reduce those impacts?”
Emphasizing one environmental issue isn’t a problem (indeed, it often makes for better communications). The problem arises when hiding a trade-off between environmental issues.
Sin of No Proof
e.g. Personal care products (such as shampoos and conditioners) that claim not to have been tested on animals, but offer no evidence or certification of this claim.
Company websites, third-party certifiers, and toll-free phone numbers are easy and effective means of delivering proof.
Sin of Vagueness
e.g. Garden insecticides promoted as “chemical-free.” In fact, nothing is free of chemicals.
Water is a chemical. All plants, animals, and humans are made of chemicals, as are all of our products. If the marketing claim doesn’t explain itself (“here’s what we mean by ‘eco’ …”), the claim is vague and meaningless. Similarly, watch for other popular vague green terms: “non-toxic,” “all-natural,” “environmentally-friendly,” and “earth-friendly.”
Sin of Irrelevance
e.g. CFC-free oven cleaners, CFC-free shaving gels, CFC-free window cleaners, CFC-free disinfectants.
Could all of the other products in this category make the same claim? The most common example is easy to detect: Don’t be impressed by CFC-free! Ask if the claim is important and relevant to the product. (If a light bulb claimed water efficiency benefits you should be suspicious.) Comparison-shop (and ask the competitive vendors).
Sin of Fibbing
e.g. Shampoos that claim to be “certified organic,” but for which our research could find no such certification.
When I check up on it, is the claim true? The most frequent examples in this study were false uses of third-party certifications. Thankfully, these are easy to confirm. Legitimate third-party certifiers—EcoLogoCM, Chlorine Free Products Association (CFPA), Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), Green Guard, and Green Seal, for example,—all maintain publicly available lists of certified products. Some even maintain fraud advisories for products that are falsely claiming certification.
Sin of the Lesser of Two Evils
e.g. Organic tobacco. “Green” insecticides and herbicides.
Is the claim trying to make consumers feel "green" about a product category that is of questionable environmental benefit? Consumers concerned about the pollution associated with cigarettes would be better served by quitting smoking than by buying organic cigarettes. Similarly, consumers concerned about the human health and environmental risks of excessive use of lawn chemicals might create a bigger environmental benefit by reducing their use than by looking for greener alternatives.
Terra Choice: Six Sins of Greenwashing
Reprinted with permission
TerraChoice Environmental Marketing Inc.
GUIDES FOR THE USE OF ENVIRONMENTAL MARKETING CLAIMS
Federal Trade Commission workshop to examine the emerging market for carbon offsets (i.e., greenhouse gas emission reduction products) and renewable energy certificates, and related advertising claims.
In an article calling for verifiable clarity, one would logically expect to
see the names of the eco-marketing claims violators—like doling out so many
"worst dressed" trophies. But to what end? The eco-marketing claims in the
US are voluntary, not mandatory. Calling out the offenders not only offers no
additional clarity for understanding the ideas in the article, but
exacerbates an already unfortunate reality. EVERYONE at this moment is
scrambling to find their way. Unless a firm began their quest back during
the first Earth Days in the 1970's, most companies today are waaaaay behind
where society, and the planet, need them to be right now.
Today's eco-leaders are the ones that have a history of commitment to their
message, and continuously seeking to address their impacts, as part of their
core ethic. So for those new to eco the simple answer is, rather than simply
slap on an eco-label like just another spot color or specialty varnish, use
the opportunity for creating trust by actually being trustworthy. No one can
address all eco-issues overnight, but they can do a few really well, and then make a genuine commitment to continue to address the rest (working towards ISO 14,000 certification is a great way to prove your efforts). For brand owners, allow me to give you an obvious piece of advice: Do your research and ensure that those who serve your brand are making claims that are credible and actually mean something. If those serving your brand
are using eco capriciously—to add more sales bling to throw at your product, for example—just how seriously do you think they're taking the rest of the project?