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The seven sins of greenwashing

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1.The Sin of the Hidden Tradeoff: The green version of the “glittering generality,” this sin involves presenting a product as green by highlighting a single environmental attribute (only focusing, for instance, on recycled content, or a manufacturer’s efforts to lower carbon emissions, without looking at the full range of environmental impact).

2. The Sin of No Proof: As the name suggests, this sin refers to making environmental claims that have no evidence to back them up.

3. The Sin of Vagueness: This sin involves feel-good language that’s so vague as to be meaningless. For instance, ever seen something labeled “chemical-free?” The report points out that this can’t be true: everything contains chemicals — water’s a chemical. A product may be free of specific toxic chemicals, but, of course, the claim doesn’t say that.

4. The Sin of Irrelevance: Making a claim that’s truthful but unimportant or unhelpful. Any product currently labeled “CFC-free,” for instance, engages in this form of greenwash, because all products are currently CFC-free: these compounds have been banned for nearly twenty years.

5. The Sin of Lesser of Two Evils: Are organic cigarettes “green?” What about “eco-friendly” pesticides and herbicides? Labeling such products “green(er)” ultimately distracts from the fundamental problems with these products.

6. The Sin of Fibbing: This really doesn’t require much of an explanation. Terrachoice noted that this was the least prevalent form of greenwashing it encountered in its survey, but there were a few products bearing claims that were simply untrue.

7. The Sin of Exaggerating: An example is the Statoil commercial for Bio95, which is a fuel with 5% bioethanol and 95% gasoline, presenting the car turning into a green grass field when you fill it up. The environmental impact from this fuel is in best case equal to the pure gasoline.

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