Don't be duped by


As consumers are becoming more environmentally aware, corporations spend billions of dollars each year to convince them that products are "green" and "eco-friendly," when often these claims are not true. This trend of exaggerated, sometimes outright fraudulent claims, has become so pervasive that it is undermining the market for environmentally sound products.

Earth Day has become an advertising opportunity for greenwashers. Is Earth Day the New Christmas only aimed at making consumers consume more? asks 

In 2008, Greenpeace marked Earth Day by creating a new website, According to the site, so far other countries have made more progress in stopping greenwash than the U.S.

Another website that helps consumers spot greenwashing and avoid being victims of false advertising is The Greenwashing Index. 

greenwashOne problem faced by consumers as well as businesses is that many common terms are vague and not verifiable or measurable. Examples are: green, easy on the environment, earth friendly, and many others. For many buyers such terms, especially if not backed up by specifics, raise a red greenwash flag.

In 2008 the Federal Trade Commission stated that "Since the Green Guides were last reviewed in 1998, green claims have increased dramatically, and this trend has been particularly prevalent in the marketing of green building and textiles...In the building market, green claims are prevalent for a wide range of building products, including flooring, carpeting, paint, wallpaper, insulation, and windows. In addition, builders are making claims that the buildings or homes they construct are green. There also has been an increase in the number of environmental seals and third-party certification programs purporting to verify the positive environment impact of textiles, building materials, and buildings." In August 2008, Greenpeace sent recommendations to FTC regarding the update, which still has not been published.

Logging, construction and real estate markets:
Excessive logging and clear-cutting of ancient forests continue all over the globe. Accounts of these assaults and the greenwashing used by governments and companies causing the devastation, can be found at Mature large forested areas are an important shield against global warming, storing carbon dioxide and helping maintain balance in the Earth's atmosphere. Deforestation and land use change contribute about 20 to 25 percent of carbon emissions that cause climate change. 

Credible forest certification enables businesses, builders and individual consumers to choose products that come from responsibly managed forests when buying wood, paper, and other forest products. Currently, the Sierra Club recognizes as credible only the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). Several other certification systems have been created by the timber and paper industries, but these are basically greenwashing, not-so-green forest management practices.  One of the best ways to make sure the forest products you buy are really earth-friendly is to ask your retailer for products containing FSC certified wood. Some stores may carry products certified by the FSC as well as products certified by SFI (Sustainable Forestry Initiative, created by the American Forest & Paper Association) and this gives you a good opportunity to provide feedback to the retailer about why FSC is preferable. More about FSC and how to find FSC approved products.

Many salespitches for housing present exaggerated claims of being green. One investigation of a self-proclaimed eco-friendly subdivision in Orange County found that on a closer look the green proved to be mostly window dressing.

The best way to ascertain that a house you buy is really green is to make sure it is LEED certified. See LEED Home Rating Systems® (PDF). LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design and was developed by USGBC (US Green Building Council). But look closely at the documents. As public interest in LEED certified buildings is increasing, so are dubious claims. Some builders may imply that a home is LEED certified when it is only LEED registered, which means that they have only applied for the certification, not actually received it, as in this ad.

Of particular interest to our area is the LEED for Neighborhood Development Rating System designed to verify that location, as well as design, meet environmentally responsible development requirements. The pilot program for this rating system began in 2007, and the first public comment period ran thru January 5, 2009. A second public comment period will be scheduled for spring 2009. The post-pilot version of the system is expected to be ready by summer and will be available to the public. The rating system includes provisions to minimize urban sprawl, automobile-dependent commuting and impact on wildlife habitat. Click here to read more about the requirements.

The USGBC Green Home Guide is also worth a visit especially if you are planning to remodel your home.

paintjobBiofuels were introduced as an alternative fuel, and cars fueled by ethanol are still marketed as green.  Biofuel is derived from food crops such as cereals, soybean, rapeseed oil, sugar cane and palm oil. Sugar cane yields more ethanol per acre than corn (most commonly used in the US), and takes less energy to produce, but requires a warm, rainy climate, which increases the risk that it will - directly or indirectly - encroach on sensitive areas, including rainforests. The Cerrado in Brazil, a unique savannah environment with rich biodiversity and several unique species, is disappearing at twice the rate of the rainforest because of the sugarcane/ethanol industry, increased cattle grazing and soy production. In addition to its destructive encroachment on the rainforest and cerrado, the biofuel industry takes up valuable space that could better be used to feed a hungry world. Among the dire consequences of the increase in biofuel crops cited by Friends of the Earth International are increased poverty and hunger, damage to eco-systems and biodiversity and contribution to climate change as forests are being felled.

Nuclear power is touted by proponents as being a "clean" solution to the energy crisis, but they often forget to mention that it produces waste that stays dangerous for tens of thousands of years or that a reactor may be threatened by terrorists or used to cover up weapon manufacturing.

Other solutions are basically green and viable when used appropriately but in the wrong place or on too large a scale they will cause serious environmental damage. Still plans for such usage are presented in a "green light."

Wind power is one example. In itself,  it is a clean and renewable resource that can contribute a lot to the reduction of our dependence on fossil fuels. However, it is important that sites for wind power plants are carefully selected, so that natural wilderness areas, wildlife corridors and habitats are not disturbed. Greenwashing of wind power plants is often in the form of underestimating or suppressing true information about bird and bat deaths caused by large wind power farms built on inappropriate sites.

Solar power is another energy source that at first glance appears so green that greenwashing wouldn't become a problem. But when the electric energy is delivered from large power plants built in a fragile desert environment, the end results are not as green as the big power companies like to paint them. The energy source may be renewable but the desert ecosystem is not. Wildlife professionals are concerned about impacts on deserts and their unique biodiversity. The installations themselves would destroy thousands of acres of the desert vegetation that sustains the native wildlife. Thousands of miles of transmission lines would be constructed through sensitive areas. One example is the LADWP plan called the Green Path North about which the California Desert Coalition writes that "it is not about green energy but about dollars, property, control, and profiteering."  An excellent discussion of the issues of large solar plants in the desert can be found at the Desert Protective Council website. When it comes to solar energy smaller is better.

Not-so-ecolocigal "eco-tourism":Ecotourism should foster environmental awareness, and be of low impact to its environment. Unfortunately, many companies and resorts advertise themselves as eco-tourist establishments, but are in fact exploiting the environment for profit. See for more on this issue.

 Additional greenwashing links

Greed in the name of green

Green building brings risk of greenwashing

Greenwashing spy

Lessons from the greenwash police

Make sure your green is for good and not for greed

Rainforest-alliance guide to certified products & companies

Taking cities beyond the greenwash

What does a green home mean?