Greenwashing is an environmental claim that proves to be unjustified by a company or other organization to create a pro-environmental image, sell a product, or to try and rehabilitate their standing with the public to create a pro-environmental image. Greenwashing is more and more prevalent today in our world of headlines and quick messages. One of the most common places to find this deceptive practice is with green cleaning products.
Greenwashed marketing does not always align with reality, as was the case with natural and green dish cleaning products by many companies including Method, Planet Ultra and even Seventh Generation. The Organic Consumers Association, dedicated to vigilantly testing green cleaning products, found that their natural dish cleaning products tested positive for the carcinogen 1,4-dioxane. As a result of the independent testing these companies were asked to remove organic and natural from their labels or they would face a lawsuit.
A 2009 study by Terra Choice Environmental Marketing identified the three areas of consumer goods with the greatest level of greenwashing to be products designed for a baby or child, cosmetics, and green cleaning products. In all three cases, marketers manipulate a consumer’s safety concerns and fears by capitalizing on the supposed health and safety benefits of green living. Of the 335 American and Canadian cleaning products they surveyed in their study, they found that 98% of the products committed at least one of the greenwashing sins. So in reality are you greenwashing or green cleaning?
Questionable Green Cleaning Products Claims
One of the ways that companies perpetrate greenwashing is vague and ambiguous labeling to lure a consumer into believing he or she is purchasing a product with greater eco friendly benefits. Additionally many labels look more legit than they actually are. For example S.C. Johnson (makers of leading household brands including Windex, Pledge, Fantastik, Shout, and Mr. Muscle) uses a Greenlist trademark on their labels. The label explains that Greenlist is a rating system that promotes the use of environmentally responsible ingredients. A class action lawsuit alleged the Greenlist mark and accompanying statement on Windex falsely implies that the Greenlist designation is administered by a neutral third party when, in fact, the trademark is owned by SC Johnson themselves!
Transparency is one of the issues, if you read the label, research the website, even contact the company directly and still cannot access the desired information regarding ingredients, it is natural for you to begin to wonder the accuracy of the claims made by the company. Additionally it is vital to consider the company’s policies and product line, not just a single product.
To best protect yourself, understand and follow the few credible logos that represent third party, industry independent, science-based multi-attribute environmental certifications. To achieve the right to display these eco friendly logos requires rigorous testing and ideally a third party review. In fact often the company must reformulate and or adjust their products to meet the stringent guidelines established for your protection. Some of the highest quality recognizable third party certifications include Design for Environment (DfE) by US EPA, EcoLabel founded by the government of Canada. Other third party and respected organizations include GreenGuard and Green Seal.
As you select your natural green cleaning products, decide if the manufacturer is simply putting lipstick on a pig or making a real difference to your health and our environment. There are several legitimate well established credible eco labels, such as wowgreen and Rochester Midland’s EnviroCare offered by Green Cleaning Products LLC, but consumers like you must remain vigilant in your green purchasing decisions.