Many 'green' products don't quite weigh up, study finds

Environmental marketer checks out retail products and identifies six sins of "greenwashing," or overinflating a product's environmental features.

Martin LaMonica Former Staff writer, CNET News
Martin LaMonica is a senior writer covering green tech and cutting-edge technologies. He joined CNET in 2002 to cover enterprise IT and Web development and was previously executive editor of IT publication InfoWorld.
Martin LaMonica

Environmental marketing firm TerraChoice found that many retail products overstate their environmental attributes, a practice which risks causing skepticism among consumers.

The company sent people to big-box retail stores to find products labeled as green. In the process, it found that almost all of them committed at least one of what it calls "sins of greenwashing."


Most common was the "Sin of the Hidden Trade-Off," where manufacturers claim a product has a green feature, such as recycled paper content, but don't pay attention to potentially more important issues, such as global warming or water use.

Second most common was the Sin Of No Proof, where consumers don't have the means to verify claims. Click here for a PDF of the study which details the other "sins." It was released this month.

To many people, this may sound like nitpicking. If manufacturers use more recycled material or make an effort to use benign chemicals, they should be able to label their products as such. And clearly, you'd expect a company like TerraChoice, whose business is environmental marketing, to have high standards.

On the other hand, the more information that manufacturers can provide, the better. If a "green consumer" is purchasing in part on the basis of environmental attributes, why not be as explicit and detailed as possible?

TerraChoice calls for better standards and labels and for consumers to be more savvy in their purchases.