Between November 2008 and January this year, TerraChoice investigated consumer products making environmental claims in North America, Australia and the UK.
The survey focused on children’s toys, baby products, cosmetics and cleaning products because these were thought to be the product categories of greatest concern to consumers and most susceptible to greenwashing.
Greenwashing here is defined by TerraChoice as the act of misleading consumers regarding the environmental practices of a company or the environmental benefits of a product or service.
The consulting firm found that the availability of so-called green products has shot up but warned that these products are rarely as good for the planet as their labels suggest.
TerraChoice said that as many as 98 percent of the products surveyed committed at least one sin of greenwashing.
The company subdivided the concept of greenwashing into seven specific sins adding “The sin of worshipping false labels” to the original list of six sins identified last year.
TerraChoice vice president Scott Case said: “Some marketers are exploiting consumers' demand for third-party certification by creating false labels or false suggestions of third-party endorsement.”
The seven sins of greenwashing identified by TerraChoice from common to least common are:
- The Sin of the Hidden Trade-Off occurs when one environmental issue is emphasized at the expense of potentially more serious concerns.
- The Sin of No Proof happens when environmental assertions are not backed up by evidence or third-party certification.
- The Sin of Vagueness occurs when a marketing claim is so lacking in specifics as to be meaningless.
- 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.
- The Sin of Irrelevance arises when an environmental issue unrelated to the product is emphasized such as claiming a product is 'CFC-free' when CFCs are banned by law.
- 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.
- The Sin of Fibbing is when environmental claims are outright false.