Environmental responsibility is now “hot”. Many consumers want to buy green products and companies are using “green” as a marketing tool. But how much of it can be believed?

This is an important question to ask yourself before making your final purchase. With so much information and “environmental do-goodism” it’s hard to know which claims are accurate and which ones aren’t telling you the whole truth.

Highlighting only one benefit while downplaying (or not mentioning) the negative is a common green marketing practice.

Consumers today are experiencing what is called “Greenwashing.” According to the 10th edition of the Concise Oxford English Dictionary, Greenwash is "disinformation disseminated by an organization so as to present an environmentally responsible public image.” So what is a well-intentioned consumer to do? Environmental cheerleaders Greenpeace have come out with a website to aid consumers in their quest to distinguish green from greenwashing. The site is located at www.stopgreenwash.org.

If you think you’re “in the know” with your green purchases or just not sure, here are a few common trip-ups made by green shoppers. To start, most consumers simply do not have enough information to make the best decisions. A label may say “contains recycled material,” but look at the label and ask yourself a few questions. How much is recycled? Is it preconsumer or post-consumer? Legitimate claims are often backed by concrete information provided on the label or the product’s website.

Pre-Consumer Recycled Content is generated by the manufacturers and often comprises scraps from the manufacturing process. An example of Pre-Consumer Recycled Content is unused carpet scraps being melted back into carpet fiber or backing within the factory.

Post-Consumer Recycled Content are items that have been circulated through the consumer market and has been gathered from commercial and residential recycling centers. Examples of Post-Consumer Recycled Content is the removal of old carpet from a site that is then shipped back to the factory and melted into carpet fiber or carpet backing.

When looking at labels claiming “low VOC content” think beyond the advertised green message. While low VOC content is good, highlighting only one benefit while downplaying (or not mentioning) the negative is a common green marketing practice. Sift through the claims by asking yourself concrete questions. What else does it contain? Research government websites to find out if the chemicals identified have adverse health effects. It requires a little extra effort, but catching a potential problem is certainly worth it.

Be wary of claims that may be accurate, but irrelevant. For instance, the claim “No CFC,” used to carry a lot more impact. However, today nothing is made with CFC. Many companies will try to use government mandated regulations to make their product seem more green.

You should also question vague claims on product labels. “Eco Friendly” may sound nice, but what does it actually mean? What attributes does it have? If product makes the claim, “contains recycled content,” ask yourself how much and what is the recycled content? A company making legitimate green claims will not hesitate to provide actual data and/or labels of third party certification to back up their claims. But which certifications are legitimate?

If you are unable to conduct your research before you leave the house, do your own mini assessment. Ask yourself:


    • Do the claims pertain to the product you are buying? (Does the light bulb you are buying claim to be FSC certified?)


    • Are there labels / specific claims?


    • Learn what the labels are and what they mean.


    • Where is the product made?

If it has .5% recycled content but is made in China and then shipped to your town, it is more harmful than a product with no recycled content that was made locally.
Is it reusable / recyclable? Can I buy something reusable instead? For example, bamboo forks are not as good as reusable forks.

With your new found knowledge on greenwashing you can avoid common green purchasing mistakes. And share you new green wisdom with a friend.

Here are just a few reputable organizations:

Cradle to Cradle
Certifies products based on their life cycle assessment which considers the product’s life cycle starting with production and ending in recyclability. Criteria includes: materials used and use of renewable energy and water during production as well as other factors. Most of the products are for commercial architectural / design use and are certified as Basic, Silver, Gold or Platinum.
Eco Logo
Certification program based on transparency of the information provided. Products may be searched by category or manufacturer and include many household items.
Forest Stewardship Council Certifies wood that has been derived from sustainably managed forests, FSC has locations in 46 states.
Certifies products that meet emission standards established by the State of Washington. Products range from ceiling systems to cleaning products.
Green Seal
Certifies products and services through a life cycle environmental assessment based on ISO and ANSI standards. Products and services range from construction materials to cleaning services.


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