Going "green" is a huge movement, with companies around the world releasing products that have less and less of an environmental impact--or, at least, that's what they want us to believe. As consumers' interest in eco-friendly products gets higher, so does the temptation to embellish a product's green credentials.
According to The Mainichi Daily News, Hitachi Appliances, a subsidiary of Hitachi and currently Japan's biggest refrigerator maker, seems to be the first company to have fallen for the temptation to claim a product is green when it isn't.
Of nine refrigerator models the company released between September and November of last year, including the "Eiyo Ikiiki Shinku Chirudo V" and the "Big & Slim 60", six are not eco-friendly at all and the other three are far from the level of eco-friendliness the company advertised them to be.
Hitachi said in its advertisements that it started using vacuum insulation panels made from recycled materials in these models for the first time in the industry. And thanks to this innovation, the carbon dioxide emissions in the production stage had been reduced by about 48 percent. For this reason, the products earned the Energy Conservation Award from the Japanese Ministry of Economy for the year 2008.
In reality, the six models in questions were made entirely of regular materials, with zero percent recycled materials. And in the remaining three, only 50 percent of the top panels were made out of recycled materials. In addition, the reduction in CO2 emissions was actually just a few percent.
To its credit, the company had indeed done research to make insulation panels using entirely recycled plastic, but it latter decided that the process was difficult and didn't implement it in the making of the models in question. This, however, wasn't mentioned in the advertising of the products. Hitachi blamed this on an internal miscommunication between its divisions.
By the end of March, about 150,000 units of the models in question were sold in Japan, with a total sales revenue of about 30 billion yen (roughly $305 million).
In response to this, the Japan Fair Trade Commission issued Monday an improvement order to Hitachi Appliances on the grounds that the company may have violated Japan's law against misleading representation in advertising.
Hitachi Appliances admitted to its misleading advertising and issued a statement that offered a "deep apology" to customers who have bought one of the products. It also applied to withdraw the nine products from the Energy Conservation Award on Monday and was accepted.
Hitachi Appliances, nonetheless, won't accept product returns or offer compensations of any kind. A representative told The Mainichi Daily News that "the refrigerators function as they are labeled. We want people to continue using them as they are."