Study Finds New Greenwashing Sin: 'Worshiping False Labels'
OTTAWA, April 15 /CNW Telbec/ - Your eyes aren't deceiving you, but the
labels might be. There are more products claiming to be green on the shelves
of stores these days, however those 'all-natural' and 'organic' products are
likely committing at least one of the Seven Sins of Greenwashing, by not
telling the complete truth. Between 2007 and 2009, the in-store availability
of so-called 'green' products has increased between 40% and 176%, with 98% of
products surveyed still committing at least one Sin of Greenwashing, according
to a report on the Seven Sins of Greenwashing released today by TerraChoice
Greenwashing is defined as the act of misleading consumers regarding the
environmental practices of a company or the environmental benefits of a
product or service.
Greenwashing is changing in creative ways. As a result, a new sin has
been identified and added to the original 2007 Six Sins of Greenwashing. The
'Sin of Worshiping False Labels' means that some marketers are mimicking
third-party environmental certifications on their products to entice consumers
to buy. The full report and handy consumer tips can be found at:
"The good news is that the growing availability of green products shows
that consumers are demanding more environmentally responsible choices, and
that marketers and manufacturers are listening", said TerraChoice President
and CEO Scott McDougall. "The bad news is that TerraChoice's survey of 2,219
consumer products in Canada and the U.S. shows that 98% committed at least one
Sin of Greenwashing and that some marketers are exploiting consumers' demand
for third-party certification by creating fake labels or false suggestions of
third-party endorsement. Despite the number of legitimate eco-labels out
there, consumers will still have to remain vigilant in their green purchasing
The Seven Sins of Greenwashing, from most common to least common, are:
1. The Sin of the Hidden Trade-Off occurs when one environmental issue is
emphasized at the expense of potentially more serious concerns. In
other words, when marketing hides a trade-off between environmental
issues. Paper, for example, is not necessarily environmentally-
preferable just because it comes from a sustainably-harvested forest.
2. The Sin of No Proof happens when environmental assertions are not
backed up by evidence or third-party certification. One common example
is facial tissue products that claim various percentages of post-
consumer recycled content without providing any supporting details.
3. The Sin of Vagueness occurs when a marketing claim is so lacking in
specifics as to be meaningless. 'All-natural' is an example of this
Sin. Arsenic, uranium, mercury, and formaldehyde are all naturally
occurring, and poisonous. 'All natural' isn't necessarily 'green'.
4. The (new) Sin of Worshiping False Labels is when marketers create a
false suggestion or certification-like image to mislead consumers into
thinking that a product has been through a legitimate green
certification process. One example of this Sin is a paper towel
product whose packaging has a certification-like image that makes the
bold claim that the product 'fights global warming.'
5. The Sin of Irrelevance arises when an environmental issue unrelated to
the product is emphasized. One example is the claim that a product is
'CFC-free', since CFCs are banned by law.
6. The Sin of Lesser of Two Evils occurs when an environmental claim
makes consumers feel 'green' about a product category that is itself
lacking in environmental benefits. Organic cigarettes are an example
of this Sin.
7. The Sin of Fibbing is when environmental claims are outright false.
One common example is products falsely claiming to be Energy Star
"In our 2009 Seven Sins of Greenwashing Report, we focused on children's
toys, baby products, cosmetics, and cleaning products, because these product
categories are the most susceptible to greenwashing and are of particular
concern to consumers who want to ensure what they buy is safe for their
families and are environmentally responsible," said McDougall.
The report also investigated the state of greenwashing in the United
Kingdom and Australia, including examining almost 1,000 products in each of
these two countries, revealing that greenwashing is an international
"The final piece of good news is that eco-labeling is on the rise", added
McDougall. "Legitimate eco-labeling is nearly twice as common as it was in our
2007 survey, increasing from 13.7% to 23.4% on all 'green' products. The 2009
Seven Sins of Greenwashing report demonstrates that consumers do have greener
choices in products but that they need to recognize the legitimate labels and
ask questions of unfamiliar ones."
About the Study
In November 2008 through January 2009, TerraChoice researchers were sent
into category-leading 'big box' retailers in the United States, Canada, the
United Kingdom, and Australia with instructions to record every product making
an environmental claim. For each, the researchers recorded product details,
claim(s) details, any supporting information, and any explanatory detail or
offers of additional information or support.
In the United States and Canada, a total of 2,219 'green' products -
products that can be found in every Canadian household - were recorded. These
claims were tested against best practices, notably against guidelines provided
by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, Canadian Competition Bureau, Australian
Consumer and Competition Commission, and the ISO 14021 standard for
About TerraChoice Environmental Marketing
As North America's premier environmental marketing firm, TerraChoice
Environmental Marketing helps grow the world's most sustainable companies.
TerraChoice's consulting practice converts knowledge of environmental science,
markets, and marketing into winning, client-centered solutions to help
sustainability leaders deliver results. For more information, visit
To download a copy of the 2009 Seven Sins of Greenwashing Report, or to
view some handy tools, go to: www.sinsofgreenwashing.org.
For further information:
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Rusnak, TerraChoice Environmental Marketing, (613) 247-1900, x 250,