Natural selection


POSTED: Monday, October 19, 2009

Kermit the Frog once said it wasn't easy being green, but today it is apparently much too easy being green—and much too easy to market yourself as being green.

Today, being green is a growing trend gone mainstream, and everyone's hopping onto the green bandwagon with plans to save the earth. Marketing buzzwords for everything from foods to cosmetics and household cleaners include all-natural, eco-friendly, eco-safe, earth-friendly, green, sustainable and biodegradable.

Here's the deal: Just because it's marketed as any of the buzzwords above, earth-friendly, all-natural or green, doesn't mean that it is. You have to read the list of ingredients on the label, determine whether it's authentic or false, do your homework on the company or product and come to your own conclusion.

You also have to decide whether the “;green”; marketing really warrants a higher price coming out of your wallet.

        » Seven Sins of Greenwashing: www.sinsofgreenwashing.org
        » FTC Guide: hsblinks.com/12j
        » Greenwashing Index (rate ads): www.greenwashingindex.com

While we can celebrate the growing eco-consciousness of the public at large, greenwashing—the act of misleading consumers over the environmental practices of a company or of a product or service—has taken hold over the nation, so beware.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration doesn't regulate the term “;natural,”; which is an ever-increasingly popular label. The Federal Trade Commission and Environmental Protection Agency only recently developed some guidelines for “;green”; advertising claims, although they hold no legal weight.

Here are some examples of greenwashing:

» Nature scenes: Nature scenes do not equal green, even though their images are highly marketable. Thus, green leaves, forests, ocean vistas and the planet Earth are slapped onto products to make them more appealing, but these products might really not be green at all once you examine the ingredients.

» Vague labels: When a product claims to be “;environmentally friendly”; but doesn't specify how or include an explanation, then there's no way to know whether it's true. Labels can be deceiving or, sometimes, downright false. A bag might say “;please recycle”; on it but not be recyclable. Or a product can be labeled as “;CFC-free”; when chlorofluorocarbons are banned by law, points out TerraChoice, an environmental marketing firm that conducted its own study, “;Seven Sins of Greenwashing,”; this year. In its survey of 2,209 consumer products, TerraChoice found 98 percent committed greenwashing. Look for proof or independent, third-party certification.

>> High-fashion reusable totes: Practically every retailer has their logo emblazoned on a reusable tote bag for sale in their store for $1 to $2. Encouraging shoppers to use reusable tote bags is green. But then all of a sudden you have a whole new industry for fancy, reusable totes, which charge $10 to $50 or more, in the name of fashion. The truth is any beach bag or backpack would do. There's even a company selling a special organizer to hold all of your reusable shopping bags (do we really need that?).

» Green hotels? Several hotels, including those in Waikiki, are now advertising themselves as green because they recycle and use compact fluorescents, which are the bare minimum at best. One in particular advertises eco-friendly green rooms with organic hand soaps and lotions, tinted windows and stationery made from recycled products. While green efforts are applauded, these are minor details at best. An EnergyStar rating, low-flow toilets and recycling practices (from food waste to newspapers and bottles) might be more relevant.