Greenwashing is a means by which companies make their products or services seem more eco-friendly and sustainable than they actually are.
TerraChoice (2010) has identified seven common types of greenwashing:
Hidden trade-off: Focusing on one eco-friendly aspect of a product while neglecting all the other negative impacts associated with its production
Lack of proof: Making claims of environmental friendliness that are impossible to substantiate (for example, percentage of recycled content in a tissue paper product)
Vagueness: Using misleading claims such as “all-natural,” which don’t necessarily mean that products are eco-friendly or even healthy (arsenic is all-natural)
Irrelevance: Making true assertions that don’t actually provide useful information to consumers seeking environmentally friendly choices (for example, claiming that products are CFC-free despite the fact that CFCs are banned and therefore would not be a problem with competing products either)
Claiming to be the lesser of two evils: Asserting that a product is the least environmentally damaging within its particular category while failing to acknowledge that the entire category is eco-destructive (i.e., fuel-efficient SUVs)
Lying: Engaging in blatant deception, such as claiming to have an environmental certification that has not actually been awarded
Using false labels: Deceiving via misleading labels (false green certification labels can be downloaded for a small fee from many stock image websites)
Although some companies do tell blatant lies, most greenwashing is exaggeration rather than outright deception. In other words, the product is usually the greener option in its category, though not as eco-friendly as it claims to be.
To read the full TerraChoice report, see The Sins of Greenwashing: Home and Family Edition, 2010.
For general information on greenwashing and its harmful impacts, as well as the opportunity to view and rate the level of greenwashing in advertisements, see the Greenwashing Index.
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