More than 95 percent of consumer products claiming to be “green” commit at least one greenwashing offense, according to a report released by TerraChoice, a North American environmental marketing company and part of Underwriters Laboratories’ global network. The worst offenders are toys and baby care products, with 100 percent and 99.2 percent, respectively, guilty of some form of greenwashing.
TerraChoice defines greenwashing as the act of misleading consumers about the environmental practices of a company or the environmental benefits of a product or service. The environmental company’s seven “sins of greenwashing” are:
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
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently proposed several revisions to its ”Green Guides” to help companies avoid making misleading environmental claims.
The study, “The Sins of Greenwashing: Home and Family Edition,” also reveals that BPA-free claims are up by 577 percent and phthalate-free claims increased 2,550 percent since the 2009 study, with two-thirds of these claims appearing on toys and baby products.
However, the study also finds that greenwashing has declined slightly since 2009 even with 73 percent more green products on the market today than in 2009. Nearly 5 percent of products do not mislead consumers with green claims, compared to only two percent last year.
The study also finds that marketers and product manufacturers are getting better, with greenwashing down among those who have focused on environmentally preferable practices longer than others. The proportion of products without green offenses is five times greater in “mature” categories like building, construction and office products than in “immature” categories like toys and baby products.
The survey also finds that good eco-labeling helps prevent — but does not eliminate — greenwashing. Of the products certified by a recognized third-party certification, more than 30 percent do not contain false green claims.
Big box retailers also are stocking more green products (22.8 percent) that provide legitimate environmental certifications than specialty (11.5 percent) or green boutique-style stores (12.8 percent).
The TerraChoice study surveyed 5,296 products in the U.S. and Canada that make an environmental claim. Products evaluated include baby care, toys, office products, building and construction products, cleaning products, housewares, health and beauty products, and consumer electronics. Between March and May 2010, TerraChoice visited 19 retail stores in Canada and 15 in the United States.