Joel Makower at Two Steps Forward describes how pervasive greenwashing is in the current crop of politically-correct green products. Excerpts below.
This past spring, TerraChoice Environmental Marketing, which consults on green marketing and administers its own labeling and certification program, sent research teams into six category-leading "big box" stores with orders "to record every product-based environmental claim they observed." TerraChoice instructed the teams that, for each environmental claim, they should "identify the product, the nature of the claim, any supporting information, and any references offered for further information."
The products studied included a wide range of offerings, from air fresheners to appliances, televisions to toothpaste. In total, the team identified 1,018 products making 1,753 claims. Of those products, "all but one made claims that are either demonstrably false or that risk misleading intended audiences."
That’s right. Only one — a house-branded paper product sold by one Canadian retailer — came through unscathed.
The result of this exercise can be found in a new report, "The Six Sins of Greenwashing", a sobering and slightly depressing look at today’s green marketplace.
None of this bodes well for the growing green marketplace. As major retailers like Wal-Mart, Home Depot, and Staples stock their shelves with a steady stream of environmentally preferable products, and thousands of both big and small manufacturers introduce environmental improvements and innovations into their product lines, the need for accountability will multiply. And without even a modicum of scrutiny, we’ll see a Wild West of Green, in which marketers can make pretty much any green claim with impunity.
What will it take to bring honesty, accuracy, accountability, and transparency to the marketplace? Who will pick up where TerraChoice left off, scrutinizing products making green claims? Who will hold companies accountable?
The obvious answer, of course, would be for a trusted environmental label to emerge — a Green Housekeeping Seal of Approval, or some such. But there already are a myriad of eco-labels — Consumer Reports lists 147 of them — and none (including TerraChoice’s own labels) has made significant inroads. Except for the government-controlled organic certification and the Energy Star label, you’d be hard-pressed to find more than a handful of green-labeled products in a typical store.