How to Reduce Greenwashing - Our Daily Green

Thursday, October 28, 2010

How to Reduce Greenwashing

On October 6, 2010, Federal Trade Commission proposed revisions to the Green Guides used by marketers to help them avoid making misleading environmental claims. The guides were originally published in 1992, and revised again in 1996 and 1998. The new proposal seeks to create uniform language for claims.

Following these proposed changes was an unsettling report released this week by TerraChoice, the environmental marketing subsidiary of the Underwriters Laboratory. The report indicates that over 95 per cent of consumer products making green claims are guilty of some sort of greenwashing. Greenwashing is when companies make unsubstantiated, poorly worded or vague claims of environmental friendly practices.

Highlights from The Sins of Greenwashing: Home and Family Edition include:
  • There are 73 per cent more green products on market today than in 2009
  • 4.5 per cent of products now sin-free, compared to only 1 per cent in 2007.  100 hundred per cent of toys and 99.2 per cent of baby products surveyed are guilty of some form of greenwashing.
  • BPA-free claims are up by 577 per cent since the 2009 Sins of Greenwashing study, appearing more frequently among toys and baby products than any other category studied.
  • Phthalate-free claims increased 2,550 per cent since 2009. 
  • Big box stores surprisingly are more likely to stock products that are “sin-free” than boutique stores. 
  • Categories such as building materials, construction and office products contained more sin-free products than categories where “green” experience was less developed, such as baby products, toys, and consumer electronics. 
  • Good eco-labeling helps prevent (but does not eliminate) greenwashing – of the products certified by a recognized third-party certification, more than 30 per cent are sin-free.
With all the misleading and sometimes deceptive claims out there, consumer trust is damaged. Confusion paralyzes the consumers from making any sort of green choices. But how to combat greenwashing?  With careful and transparent accounting of environmental footprint activity.  

photo courtesy of: Chris Creative Commons 3.0

Promising developments utilizing Enterprise Carbon Accounting (ECA)software can track carbon footprints from the supplier all the way to the consumer. ECA is essentially a hybrid life-cycle assessment; by directly linking financial data to life cycle data to produce a snapshot of the companies’ operations. ECA identifies problem areas in the supply chain so that immediate action can be taken.

This allows decision makers to quickly address critical areas within the enterprise and supply chain. Hunter Richards of Software Advice recently wrote a similar article about ECA software and greenwashing and provided valuable information.

Key factors in successful implementation include; clear government action on regulations, adoption of carbon accounting principles, expansion of emissions accounting, business incentives and informed consumers.

What are some of the ways Our Daily Green readers find genuine green merchandise?

Read more about greenwashing and ECA software at: Software to Hold "Greenwashers" Accountable.
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