TerraChoice – Six Sins of Greenwashing

In November 2007, TerraChoice (now UL – Underwriters Laboratories) released a report entitled “Six Sins of Greenwashing” – A Study of Environmental Claims in North American Consumer Markets.

Green-wash (green’wash’, -wôsh’) – verb: the act of misleading consumers regarding the environmental practices of a company or the environmental benefits of a product or service.

Below is an excerpt from their report….

The recent surge of environmental awareness in North America is unmistakable. It has been documented by many researchers and widely reported in the popular press. The rise in “green” marketing claims has also been well documented. Less studied is the apparent increase in “greenwashing” – false or misleading green marketing claims.

In an effort to describe, understand, and quantify the growth of greenwashing, TerraChoice Environmental Marketing Inc. conducted a survey of six category-leading big box stores. Through these surveys, we identified 1,018 consumer products bearing 1,753 environmental claims. Of the 1,018 products examined, all but one made claims that are demonstrably false or that risk misleading intended audiences.
Based on the survey results, we identified six patterns in the greenwashing, which we now recognize as the “Six Sins of Greenwashing”.

These findings suggest that greenwashing is pervasive, the consequences of which are significant:

  • Well-intentioned consumers may be misled into purchases that do not deliver on their environmental promise. This means both that the individual consumer has been misled and that the potential environmental benefit of his or her purchase has been squandered.
  • Competitive pressure from illegitimate environmental claims takes market share away from products that offer more legitimate benefits, thus slowing the penetration of real environmental innovation in the marketplace.
  • Greenwashing may create cynicism and doubt about all environmental claims. Consumers – particularly those who care most about real environmental progress – may give up on marketers and manufacturers, and give up on the hope that their spending might be put to good use. This would eliminate a significant market-based, financial incentive for green product innovation and leave committed environmental advocates with government regulations as the most likely alternative.

Of the 1,018 products reviewed, all but one committed at least one of the Six Sins of Greenwashing.

  1. Sin of the Hidden Trade-Off
  2. Sin of No Proof
  3. Sin of Vagueness
  4. Sin of Irrelevance
  5. Sin of Fibbing
  6. Sin of Lesser of Two Evils

Visit the TerraChoice – Six Sins of Greenwashing web site to read more.

(Source: TerraChoice)

One thought on “TerraChoice – Six Sins of Greenwashing

  1. Update: TerraChoice (acquired by UL), developed and launched a study of environmental claims made on products carried on category-leading big box store shelves. Based on the results of the original study and subsequent studies, the Seven Sins of Greenwashing were developed to help consumers identify products that made misleading environmental claims.


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