Greenwashing Sins and Big Box Stores As Gentle Green Giants?

TerraChoice has issued its 2010 Sins of Greenwashing Report: See it here.

The not-so good news: 95 percent of product labels violate one of the company’s commonsense “sins” of greenwashing” in product marketing.

But 95 percent of prodo is better than last year! Last year, they found 98 percent; this is actually better news that it seems at first because there are about 73 percent more products being labeled green this year than last, according to their examination of just over 5,000 products. So the number of green products is going up, and the percentage of those actually backing their claims with legitimate labels and/or green practices has gone up.

The online home building magazine Builder has a nice summary by Katy Tomasulo.

Among the most surprising is their finding that big box stores are actually less guilty of greenwashing than smaller boutique stores. Big boxes carry a greater selection of truly green products and products that are certified by reliable companies like Energy Star. I sort of love this finding, but I need to research it more before I believe it, but dang, it’s a delightful thought: for all these years, those well-paid people who looked down their noses at my former departmental secretary (a single mom with no money) about the evils of shopping at Walmart while they themselves bought their junk from locally owned booteques and shoppees were in the wrong. Heh. It is a delicious thought.

Environmentalism is as much about myth as substance.

Perhaps the best thing about this report, if I have any students reading, is their brilliant way of presenting information. It’s probably too hard to the read the text on the screen, the presentation here is brilliant–it’s a brightly colored surprise in the whole report, and it summarizes all their dimensions of greenwashing in terms people familiar with Judeo-Christian culture can understand:

1. Sin of the hidden trade-off–advertising based on a narrow aspect of the product while not reporting its entire environmental impact.

2. Sin of no proof. If a product’s claims about being green can not be proven with easily accessed data.

3. Sin of Vagueness–Green claims so poorly defined you can’t follow up and prove it.

4. Sin of Irrelevance–Green marketing about environmental improvements may be true, but their impact is so margin that it makes no sense or is already required by law. (CFC-free is the example they use; it’s irrelevant since CFCs are outlawed.)

5. Sin of less of two evils. Environmental claims that a product may be greener than another product in its category, but that simply distract consumers from the fact that the whole product category is just plain bad for the environment, like organic cigarettes.

6. Sin of fibbing. Right what it says it is. Terrachoice says this sin is pretty uncommon

7 Sin of worshipping false labels. Marketing and artwork that gives the impression of a third-party or green underwriter endorsement when the product does not, in fact, have the certification.

HT to Ehud Mouchy

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Greenwashing Sins and Big Box Stores As Gentle Green Giants?

  1. Lori Hight

    I don’t think that carrying more truly green products makes WalMart a good company. There is much more to the story than that. You should look into some of the objections the WalMart haters have – try “Big Box Swindle”, a very interesting read.

    • I’m pretty sure that nobody–from TerraChoice to me–said Walmart was a good company. I think what TerraChoice is saying is that the Big Box stores carry more verifiably green products than do smaller stores. That’s only one part of corporate action or corporate responsibility.

      You could also think of it this way: if TerraChoice’s methods for evaluating sustainable products included things like a the way stores treat employees and their surrounding communities, the measures might turn out way differently than simply looking at the products the stores carry. What amuses me is the assumption that there are inherently better places to shop–when the answer may be: nowhere.

  2. Jesse Richardson

    I’ll say it- Walmart is a good company. Walmart provides lots of benefits to consumers- particularly low- to moderate-income consumers. Its distribution system is so efficient that it was really the leader in providing relief to victims of Katrina.

    People who live close to Super Walmarts have a better diet than others generally- fresh fruits and vegetables available at low prices. Walmart exercises so much market power (albeit perhaps too much) that they can get suppliers to do “green” things or else they won’t use the supplier. Walmart is a very green. It would be amusing to watch the anti-Walmart histrionics all over the world if the antics did add so much to the cost of consumer products.

  3. fr33energy

    Terrachoice is a for-profit company that created a bias marketing campaign to push Ecologo (the logo they manage). My wife bought some Ecologo products a while back and noticed greenwashing on the labels. What a farce; that makes Terrachoice and Ecologo sinners! This prompted me to check out Ecologo standards. I was surprised to learn that they are so old they cannot really represent environmental leadership anymore?! Others only have a single criterion statement (another sin); where is the life-cycle approach they promised on their website (another lie)?! Check out their website and download the standards and see for yourself… Shame on Terrachoice for pointing the finger at others, when they cannot deliver. Most eco-labels are not worth paying extra money, because we have no idea of the real environmental savings. All we have here is hypocrisy, marketing spin, and a very bad marketing campaign. It’s all a scam. Beware!