Avoiding Greenwashing

Many people today are trying to live greener by choosing products that make a claim to be green or otherwise more environmentally friendly.  However, it’s difficult to tell just by looking at the label if a product is truly green.

Greenwashing refers to falsely marketing a product as sustainable when the product or manufacturing process is not eco-friendly. To help avoid being misled by improper or false label claims, NSF International offers these tips:

  • Look for meaningful claims. Be cautious of products making generic claims of "100% natural” or “environmentally friendly" without information as to how or why. The recently updated and re-released Federal Trade Commission Green Guide provides information on the types of claims that companies are allowed to make regarding green products and which ones require verification. If you see a claim with no verification either on the package or the company website, then the claim may be misleading.
  • Avoid products that make irrelevant claims, like that a product is "CFC-free" (CFCs were banned more than 20 years ago).
  • Look for a seal or certification mark from a recognized, independent third party specializing in green claims. Check with the certifier to verify the product is truly certified.
  • Read the product’s packaging. While a product may be green, is the packaging green as well and can it be discarded in an environmentally safe way?
  • Don’t be misled by pretty pictures or use of earth-friendly colors on product labels. Just because a product label shows a forest doesn’t mean the product inside is green.
  • Read product usage instructions and avoid those that display warnings on the label, such as “caution” or “use in well-ventilated area,” which typically indicate that the product is hazardous to you and/or the environment.
  • Question percentage claims, such as “This product contains 50% more recycled content.” Fifty percent more than what?
  • Be cautious of hidden trade-offs. For example, many products today are more energy efficient but may still be produced from hazardous or non-recyclable materials.

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