Thursday, April 22, 2010

'Greenwashing is Rampant'

On this Earth Day, here's a reminder how incredibly gullible some people are. Sadly, I didn't come up with this scam myself, otherwise I'd be filthy rich like Al Gore and others who've preyed upon the incredible stupidity of people and helped empty their pockets in the pursuit of being green.
Dawn Josephson is known among her friends as a "Birkenstock-lovin', Mother Earth-huggin', organic-buyin', fanatically green chick," she says.

"I buy green household cleaners, organic foods and natural materials religiously," says the 37-year-old professional writing coach and mother of two from Jacksonville. Among the eco-friendly products in her home: shampoo, hand soap, toothpaste and biodegradable pet waste bags.

"Even though these things typically cost a little more — OK, sometimes a lot more — I firmly believe any additional cost is worth it," she says.

Josephson's gung-ho green attitude is echoed by millions of others willing to pay extra for everything from green coffee to eco-friendly coffins. Overall spending in the green marketplace is tough to measure because there are so many products and so many terms that fit the description. Yet, sales in the healthy product market, which includes green products as well as those promoting personal health or benefiting the environment, totaled $722 billion in 2009, up 41% from 2004, according to Mintel International Group. The market is expected to hit $992 billion by 2014.

More than half of consumers say they would pay more for a product if they knew it was better for the environment, according to a national poll conducted this month by ad agency Venables Bell & Partners.

Yet, some of the spending is misplaced: Overhyped and overpriced enviro-friendly impostors share shelves with the truly planet- and human-friendly products. Misleading claims are so rampant, there is actually a term for it: greenwashing.

Four decades after the first April 22 Earth Day was launched to promote eco-awareness, "The concept of green is still evolving," and there are no easy answers for consumers, says Ed Stafford, a Utah State University business professor who specializes in green marketing. "Even environmentalists conflict with one another about what is truly a green product."

No wonder more than 40% of consumers say they don't know how to verify whether a company really is green, according to a February report from research firm Mintel. Consumer education on this topic is increasingly important, say green product experts such as Rona Berg, an expert on organic personal care products and author of Beauty: The New Basics.

"Greenwashing is rampant," she says. "It's like a house of mirrors," as companies put forth false and misleading claims to snare the eco-conscious consumer's dollar.

Congress is increasingly introducing initiatives, such as the Household Product Labeling Act of 2009, which calls for more transparency, but for now, the best defense is for folks to look for red flags that indicate a product isn't as eco-friendly as it claims, Berg says.

"It takes a little bit of detective work, unfortunately," she says. "American consumers need to know what is in their products so they can make good choices."

Because there are so few universal standards on the "eco," "natural," "organic" and "green" front — and so many products glomming onto those labels — it can be difficult to know what warrants a purchase and what doesn't.
Or you can just ignore this nonsense, quit feeling guilty and live your life like a normal human being.

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