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Misleading Claims Found on Plethora of “Green” Products

(Beyond Pesticides, October 29, 2010) According to a new report by the North American environmental-marketing company TerraChoice, 95% of consumer products examined that claim to be eco-friendly are guilty of greenwashing, including: vague language such as “all-natural,” no proof of environmental claims, and the use of fake labels designed to imply that the product has a third party endorsement. Interestingly, the study found that “big box” retailers tend to stock more “green” products and more products that provide legitimate environmental certifications (like organic) than smaller “green” boutique-style stores. This report comes on the heels of FTC’s announcement to revise its “Green Guides” guidelines. In an effort to reduce confusion among consumers trying to decipher the wide variety of green claims, the commission is revising its guidelines for companies seeking to promote their products as environmentally friendly.

The report, The Sins of Greenwashing: Home and Family Edition, examines over 5,000 consumer products in 34 stores in the U.S. and Canada and finds 12,061 “green” claims. Researchers documented product details, claim details, any supporting information on labels or store shelves, and any explanatory details or offers of additional information or support. Those claims were tested against best practice and guidelines provided by the FTC, the Competition Bureau of Canada, and the ISO 14021 standard for environmental labeling.

Unfortunately, some supposedly green labels mean very little. For example, the “Earth Friendly Farm Friendly” label found on some dairy products actually encourages the use of pesticides, hormones and antibiotics to increase production. Sarah Lee has been accused of green washing for creating a line called Earth Grains bread. Despite a major marketing campaign to push the products as environmentally friendly, the grains for the breads are produced with only a slight decrease in the amount of synthetic fertilizer used.

“’Greenwashing’ is an issue that touches many industries, and education and awareness play a key role in helping to prevent it,” said Stephen Wenc, President, UL Environment. “We’re hopeful that the trends and tips identified in this study will help our business partners confidently and appropriately share their environmental achievements with their consumers.”

Currently, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Certified Organic label is the best bet. The USDA Organic Label info is intended to show consumers that the product adheres to uniform standard which meet the requirements of the National Organic Program Final Rule.

When choosing a product that is better for the environment, it is important that consumers are informed. It is due to consumer demand that the National Organic Standards Program was created. Consumers should read labels and do their homework to avoid being taken in by a company’s green washing. For more information on reading through “Green” consumer claims, read Beyond Pesticides’ “Making Sure Green Consumer Claims are Truthful.”

Take Action: FTC is currently taking public comments on their “Green Guides,” which only guidelines and not enforceable as law. The FTC can, however, take action if it deems a company’s marketing to be deceptive or misleading. This is the first time in twelve years that the FTC will revise its green marketing guidelines. The “Green Guides were originally issued in 1992 with the purpose of helping companies ensure the claims they make are true and substantiated. View the proposed “Green Guides” and Submit your comments to the FTC by December 10, 2010.

Source: TerraChoice Press Release


2 Responses to “Misleading Claims Found on Plethora of “Green” Products”

  1. 1
    Corner Garden Sue Says:

    Thanks for the information. I bookmarked your site, and will be back to learn more. I garden organically, but not everything I eat is grown that way. When I buy cleaning products, I look for the ones that are better for the environment. I’ll have to look more carefully at the labels.

  2. 2
    Grass hopper Says:

    I have long suspected that many people jump on the ‘enviromentally-freindly’ bandwagon purely for marketing purposes and in reality do as little as possible just so that they can make the claim and improve profits. There should be some guidelines so that people can make informed choices when they are making purchases.

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