spot the greenwashing sins

Greenwashing is a common theme on this blog and a topic I keep an igoogle eye on.  Along with carbon offsetting, green-washing can be seen as unnecessary distractors, distracting energy and focus away from the real task in hand of sustainability and ‘greening’ the built environment industries.

It was then good to note a recent report from TerraChoice,  Six Sins of Greenwashing.

The research looked at 1,018 products making 1,753 claims. And although the products studied included a wide range of offerings, from air fresheners to appliances, televisions to toothpaste, the conclusions are typical of all green advertising.  Worryingly of those products, all but one made claims that are either demonstrably false or that risk misleading intended audiences.

The sins provide a good guide to ‘testing’ claims made by companies and or advertisements.

Happy spotting.   In fact isite will start a rogues gallery of greenwash  sins, relevant to the built environment industry – watch this space for a related blog space.  In the meantime if you spot any blatant greenwash – please leave details in the comments below.

The sins:

Sin of the Hidden Trade-Off--(made by 57 percent of all environmental claims examined)  claims that suggest a product or company is “green” based on a single environmental attribute (the recycled content of paper, for example)
Sin of No Proof (26%)–any claim that couldn’t be substantiated by easily accessible supporting information, or by a reliable third-party certification.

Sin of Vagueness (11 %)–any claim that is so poorly defined or broad that its real meaning is likely to be misunderstood by the intended consumer, such as “chemical free” or “all natural.”

Sin of Irrelevance (4 %)–claims that may be truthful but are unimportant and unhelpful for consumers, such as CFC-free products, since ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons have been outlawed since the late 1980s.

Sin of Lesser of Two Evils (1%)–environmental claims that may be true, but that risk distracting the consumer from the greater environmental impacts of the category as a whole, such as organic cigarettes.

Sin of Fibbing (<1%)- claims that are simply false, typically by misusing or misrepresenting certification by an independent authority, when no such certification had been made.

Greenwash Definition: Greenwash  is a term that is used to describe the actions of a company, government, or other organization which advertises positive environmental practices while acting in the opposite way.

The term is generally used when significantly more money or time has been spent advertising being green , rather than spending resources on environmentally sound practices. This is often portrayed by changing the name or label of a product, to give the feeling of nature, for example putting an image of a forest on a bottle of harmful chemicals.Links:


Joel Makower 

Triple Bottom Line 

6 thoughts on “spot the greenwashing sins

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