Seeing through the Greenwash on Earth Day

With Earth Day approaching, green claims are sprouting like daffodils through the spring dirt. And with what seems like almost every company claiming they are now green (Really? Chevron? Really?), it is hard to see through this green noise to which products and companies are actually taking significant steps to improve their environmental performance.

A report out this week from the Canadian firm TerraChoice asserts that 98% of green package claims suffer from at least one of “Seven Sins of Greenwashing.” Joel Makower, one of my favorite analysts of green marketing does a nice job deconstructing TerraChoice’s analysis and the marketing mixed into their own report. Nonetheless, TerraChoice comes to some interesting findings:

  • The total number of green products is up 79% since 2007.
  • Green advertisements have almost tripled since 2006.
  • Of the 2,219 products they studied that make green claims, over 98% committed one of TerraChoice’s seven “sins” of greenwashing.
  • Toys, baby products, cosmetics and cleaning products are the four categories in which green claims – and greenwashing – are most common.

Now you know why GoodGuide started by rating personal care, baby care, toys, and household cleaning chemicals. Industry has been spending huge sums greenwashing in exactly the categories that have the most problematic chemicals, and for which the public has become most concerned. GoodGuide is in one sense, a simple tool to help you see through marketing claims to the actual environmental and health impacts of products and companies.

The good news in all of this is that consumer concerns are finally getting attention in the marketplace. Brands and retailers now see a real threat in consumer awareness around toxic ingredients, pollution from production, sweatshops, etc. And an increasing number of firms see a real opportunity if they can convince you that their products are green and clean.

So what is a smart shopper to do amidst this Earth Day green marketing blitz? Embrace this shift in the market and empower yourself even more. Find out what really goes into your favorite products. Learn which companies really rate best on environmental performance. Demand full disclosure – not pretty green packaging – from the companies you support with your hard earned money.

And maybe – at least for Earth Week – ask yourself if you can actually NOT buy a product you are considering. Can you make your own drain declogger (just baking soda and vinegar) rather than buying a toxic chemical? Or eliminate air fresheners all together (by just opening windows!) Or give up deodorant? Okay, scratch that. I don’t want you to lose all your friends:)

And finally, if you really want to help the environment, we all need to work for smarter government policies on climate change, pollution prevention, green chemistry, and product regulation to eliminate hazards before they are created. We need to both change our light bulbs and our legislation this year.

Happy Earth Day!

About Dara O'Rourke

Associate Professor at UC Berkeley and Co-Founder of GoodGuide.
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2 Responses to Seeing through the Greenwash on Earth Day

  1. NP says:

    Hi Dara – Interesting article above! I read the pdf report ‘The 7 Sins of Greenwashing’ and I have something to say about using USDA certification for organic productswith reference to http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/07/02/AR2009070203365.html?hpid=smartliving

    If a lot of people use USDA organic certification as a guide and the integrity of USDA certification is suspect, I am curious to know if there is an alternative reliable benchmark that needs to be promoted.

    Also, since organizations like USDA are subject to pressures from the ag lobby, is there a way to recognize organic products by some form of peer review and rating process, akin to (say) product reviews on Amazon?

    Thanks!

  2. Glenn says:

    Bindarri have released a report claiming Australia’s first carbon neutral paper ENVI is a deceitful greenwash.

    ENVI paper includes pulp from Australia’s native forests. These forests include the worlds most carbon dense forests, biologically significant forests, and water catchments.

    Bindarri outlines the "Sins of Greenwash" that ENVI have commited and discuss the loopholes ENVI use to claim that their logging is "certified" and "sustainable".

    Read More…
    http://www.bindarri.com.au/envi-carbon-neutral-paper/

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