TERRACHOICE, a science-based marketing firm located in Ottawa, helps clients turn genuine environmental leadership into winning strategies. For its Greenwashing Report 2009, TerraChoice researchers visited "big box" retailers in Canada and the United States. They found 2219 products making 4996 green claims, with over 98 per cent of the retailers committing at least one of the "Seven Sins of Greenwashing." TerraChoice recently added a seventh sin--the "Sin of Worshiping False Labels"--to their original list of six sins.
TerraChoice tested all claims against best practices, including guidelines provided by the US Federal Trade Commission, Competition Bureau of Canada and the ISO 14021 standard for environmental labelling.
The Seven Sins of Greenwashing
1 Sin of the Hidden Trade-off Suggesting a product is "green" based on a narrow set of attributes, without attention to other environmental issues.
2 Sin of No Proof Claims that are not supported by a reliable third-party certification.
3 Sin of Vagueness Poorly defined claims that may be misunderstood by consumers.
4 Sin of Irrelevance Claims that, while truthful, are unhelpful for consumers seeking environmentally preferable products.
5 Sin of Lesser of Two Evils Claims that may be true within the product category, but that risk distracting consumers from greater environmental impacts from the category as a whole (e.g., sport-utility vehicles).
6 Sin of Fibbing Environmental claims that are simply false. Fortunately, this is the least frequent sin.
7 Sin of Worshiping False Labels The newest offence on the list of greenwashing sins. This is usually perpetrated by marketers who exploit consumers' demand for green certification by creating fake labels or false suggestions of third-party endorsement.
Canadian claims broken down by product category Health & Beauty 21% Cleaning Products 18% Home 14% Other Products 14% Building & Construction Body Care 8% Electronics 4% Cleaning Paper 4% Lawn & Garden 2% Toys 2% Other 1% Note: Table made from bar graph.
Although it's promising that environmental concerns are on consumers' minds, greenwashing is rampant throughout North America. Only two per cent of all products surveyed by TerraChoice were found to be sin-free.
Frequency of sins committed in Canada No Proof 27% Vagueness 25% Irrelevance 3% Fibbing 1% Lesser of Two Evils 3% Worshiping False Labels 8% Note: Table made from pie chart.
Marketers are making wore environmental claims than ever before. For the stores that were visited by TerraChoice, the number of products claiming to be green increased by an average of 79 percent from 2007 to 2008.
Percentage of products in Canada committing each sin Hidden Trade-off 70% No Proof 60% Vagueness 51% Worshiping False Labels 23% Irrelevance 7% Lesser of Two Evils 5% Fibbing 1%
Everyday household items, such as toys, baby products, cosmetics and cleaning supplies, are among the most greenwashed products for sale.
You can download TerraChoice's newest greenwashing report from www.sinsofgreenwashing.org. Although the group doesn't "out" specific perpetrators, the site features plenty of resources for those looking to crack any case of greenwashing. It also includes guides for marketers so they can learn how to win over consumers without committing any of the seven sins.