Products hyped as 'green' often fall short
"I would actually look at the whole sustainability
movement, not just about sustaining resources
but about sustaining profit. Wind energy is
a good example of that. It's not like fossil
fuels where there is a certain scarcity. We
can have as much as we want," says Shepp.
Larsen at Co-op America points
to Patagonia as a successful and profitable
company that was founded on and operates on
strict green principles. The outdoor clothing
and gear company has actually built a loyal
following on its principles and is known for
producing products that cause the least harm
to the environment and treating its employees
well. The company engages in environmental
activism and even recycles clothes into new
|About 130 million cell phones are thrown away each year. Soon, the number of discarded cell phones will surpass the number purchased.
As more certification organizations come online and jump into the industry, the greenwashing of products may become less common. Linda Chipperfield, vice president of marketing and outreach at GreenSeal.org, says that because organic products must be certified and because organic foods must have a United States Department of Agriculture, or USDA, organic seal, there is little, if any, greenwashing in the organic industry. Companies that make false claims can be investigated and fined up to $11,000 per incident under the Organic Foods Production Act.
"Because there are national organic standards,
there should not be any greenwashing with
organic products. And if you're talking about
food, there cannot be greenwashing with organic
food because there is traceability and a paper
trail," says Chipperfield.
"Organic" is defined as an ecological production management system that is based on minimal use of off-farm inputs -- materials, such as chemicals, used to increase production that do not originate on the farm -- and on management practices that restore, maintain and enhance ecological harmony. Organic products are not just limited to produce and can include organic clothing, apparel, flowers, pet food and nutritional supplements.
Other green-related certifications
and authorities include Energy
Star, whose logo is given to products
which meet strict energy-efficiency guidelines
set by the Environmental Protection Agency
and the U.S. Department of Energy. Green
Seal uses science-based environmental
certification standards to certify everything
from coffee filters to air chillers. Green
building design, which is becoming increasingly
common, is measured and documented by the
Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design
Green Building Rating System under the U.S.
Green Building Council. Co-op
America also runs a network of more than
3,000 screened and approved green businesses.
In the end, it's a combination of consumer education and the rise of certification standards and organizations that will lay greenwashing to rest. Chatterjee says fluffy green ads are often a response to consumers' increasing concern for the environment. "It's really just about selling a product," says Chatterjee.