Environmentalism is all the rage these days. Americans drink organic beers and spend money to make their homes more environmentally friendly. One recent survey found that the majority of Americans are willing to pay more for a product if they know it will benefit the environment.
So it shouldn’t be too surprising that the market has become flooded with products that are advertised with buzzwords like green, organic, sustainable, environmentally friendly, natural and biodegradable, just to name a few. In fact, there are 80 different environmental buzzwords like these used in the U.S. alone and about 600 used worldwide, according to The Washington Post. Yet when EcoLogo, a third-party environmental certification group, analyzed more than 2,000 North American products that claimed to be environmentally friendly in one way or another, they found that 98% “lacked proof to justify their claims.”
How to Avoid Being Greenwashed
Until now, the federal government has done relatively little to fight instances of green fraud. The New York Times reports that the Federal Trade Commission is authorized to crack down on businesses that are “misrepresenting their practices to clients,” but during the Bush administration, the FTC did not file any complaints of products making these sorts of environmental claims. Since Obama has taken office though, several complaints have been filed. Even more importantly though, the FTC has signaled that it will make changes to its environmental marketing guidelines for the first time in more than a decade.
The term most often used to describe deceptive green marketing is greenwashing, and as we’ll see, plenty of companies are guilty of doing this to varying degrees. So, before you throw down your hard-earned cash on a product that you think might save the world, make sure to look for endorsements of the products from other third-party groups like Ecologo and Energy Star and, ideally, stick to products that offer additional information on their Web sites in the interest of transparency.