The Six Sins of Greenwashing

Nov. 20, 2007
A study found that, of 1,018 common consumer products ranging from toothpaste to caulking to shampoo to printers, 99 percent were guilty of greenwashing

Buyers beware - that so-called "green" product is likely stretching the eco-truth, according to the Six Sins of Greenwashing, a new study released by Reading, PA-based TerraChoice Environmental Marketing.

The study found that of 1,018 common consumer products ranging from toothpaste to caulking to shampoo to printers, randomly surveyed for the study, 99 percent were guilty of "greenwashing."

The environmental shortcomings indentified in the study were separated into the following six categories - or the "Six Sins of Greenwashing."

1. Sin of the Hidden Trade-Off: e.g. "energy-efficient" electronics that contain hazardous materials. 998 products, or 57 percent of all environmental claims, were guilty.

2. Sin of No Proof: e.g. shampoos claiming to be "certified organic," but with no verifiable certification. 454 products and 26 percent of environmental claims were guilty.

3. Sin of Vagueness: e.g. products claiming to be 100-percent natural when many naturally occurring substances are hazardous, like arsenic and formaldehyde. Seen in 196 products or 11 percent of environmental claims.

4. Sin of Irrelevance: e.g. products claiming to be CFC-free, even though CFCs were banned 20 years ago. This was seen in 78 products and 4 percent of environmental claims.

5. Sin of Fibbing: e.g. products falsely claiming to be certified by an internationally recognized environmental standard like EcoLogo, ENERGY STAR, or Green Seal. Found in 10 products, or less than 1 percent of environmental claims.

6. Sin of Lesser of Two Evils: e.g. organic cigarettes or "environmentally friendly" pesticides. This occurred in 17 products, or 1 percent of environmental claims.

"Consumers are inundated with products that make green claims," says Scott McDougall, president at TerraChoice. "Some are accurate, certified, and verifiable while others are just plain fibbing to sell products."

Manufacturers and suppliers can request an assessment and EcoLogo certification to determine whether a product's claims are valid.

The study and consumer tip sheets can be found on the Web at (

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