Oct 29, 2010
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95% of 'green' products use misleading claims

Oct 29, 2010

More than 95 percent of consumer products claiming to be green are committing at least one of the "sins" of greenwashing, according to a new study released today by environmental marketing company TerraChoice.


Greenwashing is defined as the act of misleading consumers about the environmental practices of a company or the environmental benefits of a product or service. The 2010 study reveals that greenwashing has declined slightly since 2009, with 4.5 percent of products now "sin-free", compared to only 2 percent in 2009.

TerraChoice lists the "sins of greenwashing" as:

1. Sin of the hidden trade-off

2. Sin of no proof

3. Sin of vagueness

4. Sin of irrelevance

5. Sin of lesser than two evils

6. Sin of fibbing

7. Sin of worshipping false labels

Surprisingly, the report finds that big box retailers stock more "green" products and more products that provide legitimate environmental certifications than smaller "green" boutique-style stores.

It also states that marketers and product manufacturers are getting better, with greenwashing down among those who have been focused on environmentally preferable practices longer than others. The proportion of "sin-free" products is five times greater in "mature" categories like building, construction and office products than in "immature" categories like toys and baby products.

"We found 73 percent more 'green' products on the market today than in 2009," said Scott McDougall, President of TerraChoice. "This is great news and it shows that consumers are changing the world by demanding greener goods, and that marketers and manufacturers are taking note."

The TerraChoice study, the third since 2007, surveyed 5,296 products in the U.S. and Canada that make an environmental claim. Between March and May 2010, TerraChoice visited 19 retail stores in Canada and 15 in the United States. "The increase from just 2 percent to 4.5 percent may seem small, but we see it as early evidence of a positive and long lasting trend," said McDougall. "We are also pleased with the finding that those home and family product categories that are more mature have less greenwashing and more reliable green certification."

Product categories studied in the 2010 report include baby care products, toys, office products, building and construction products, cleaning products, housewares, health and beauty products, and consumer electronics.

Other report highlights:

- 100 percent of toys and 99.2 percent of baby products surveyed are guilty of some form of greenwashing.

- BPA-free claims are up by 577 percent since the 2009 study, appearing more frequently among toys and baby products than any other category studied.

- Phthalate-free claims increased 2,550 percent since 2009.

- Good eco-labeling helps prevent (but does not eliminate) greenwashing--of the products certified by a recognized third-party certification, more than 30 percent are sin-free.

TerraChoice researchers catalogued a total of 5,296 products and a total of 12,061 "green" claims made by those products. Those claims were tested against best practice and guidelines provided by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, the Competition Bureau of Canada, and the ISO 14021 standard for environmental labeling.

Photo by Morgan/flickr/Creative Commons. Reprinted with permission from Sustainable Business

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