Startling greenwashing survey results

It’s great to see companies responding to the need for greener products and more choices being available in supermarkets rather than just niche stores.

But not is all as it seems according to a recent survey by Terra Choice – it appears that greenwashing is rampant.

Greenwashing is the practice of deceiving consumers regarding the environmental commitment of a company or of the green credentials of a product or service.

In November 2008 through January 2009, TerraChoice researchers in United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia went into large stores recording details of every product they could find making an environmental claim.

In the United States and Canada, over 2000 of these ‘green’ products were recorded. These claims were tested against government issued best practices and the results published in this report (PDF). TerraChoice found a staggering 98% of products surveyed still committing at least one “Sin of Greenwashing”; being:

1, Hidden Trade-Off
2. No proof
3. Vagueness
4. False labeling
5. Irrelevance
6. Lesser of two evils
7. Lying

The path to greenwashing, like the road to hell, can be paved with good intentions.

For example, you may have a mom and pop type business who has been selling earth friendly soap for years. Then as going green has become hip, Company X hits the scene making all sorts of lavish claims and selling their soap at a cheaper price. The temptation is to match the spin; then each one escalates until such time that you’d think the product can solve climate change on its own and restore peace to the world. This is by no means confined to the green goods scene; unsubstantiated spin permeates every aspect our society.

However, it is important for companies to resist the temptations of exaggeration and for consumers to learn how to avoid greenwashing. Only when there’s a sustained backlash against such practices will things ever change.