According to the latest study by TerraChoice, the vast majority of brands — 95% of consumer products surveyed by the environmental marketing firm — commit some form of “greenwashing.”
Defined as unproven environmental claims, the firm's 2010 Sins of Greenwashing report cited unsubstantiated claims of being BPA- and phthalates-free, critical factors to consumers choosing baby and toy products. Overall, the most common examples of ‘outright fibbing’ are bogus claims of compliance with the U.S. federal government's Energy Star program.
The third such study by TerraChoice assessed 5,000 consumer products from 34 stores in the U.S. and Canada. Of the resulting 12,061 "green" claims, in addition to the Energy Star fudging, the survey found (per the Wall Street Journal's report on the study), “vague or poorly defined marketing language, such as 'all-natural,' and the use of fake labels designed to imply a product has third-party certification or endorsement of its claims.”
"The scary thing is that manufacturers are not providing independent proof of these claims," commented Scot Case, market-development director for Underwriters Laboratories Inc., which recently acquired TerraChoice (both companies specialize in green-certification programs and third-party eco-claims verification). "The same verification we expect from accounting records, we should expect from BPA claims."
BPA's possible health effects caused the Canadian government to add it to its toxic-substances list, as have officials in Europe. The report found that not a single "green" toy was free of greenwashing, and that less than 1% of baby products were "sin free." Gulp.
In the U.S., the Federal Trade Commission recently revised its green marketing guidelines to try to thwart deceptive eco-marketing claims, and cautions marketers not to use "unqualified certifications or seals of approval" or assertions that a product is "environmentally friendly" or "eco-friendly" as such claims are virtually impossible to corroborate.
Serious business to claim green neutrality when the effects are toxic. Mother Nature ultimately – cannot be greenwashed.
Consumer product labels considered legitimate according to TerraChoice include:
Biodegradable Products Institute
CRI Green Label
Fair Trade Certified
Natural Products Association
UL Environment Environmental Claim Validation**
UL Environment Energy Efficiency Verification**