Buyers beware of green washing

Kelley Stoklosa

Green washing is when companies, knowingly or unknowingly, mislead consumers regarding the environmental-friendliness of their products.

Companies wise to rising environmental trends market their products to unsuspecting consumers. Admirers of Mother Earth are not taking this phenomena lying down. Below is a brief history about anti-greenwash activism:

1986: Environmentalist Jay Westerveld is credited with coining the term in an article he wrote about the hotel industry initiative to reuse towels. Westerveld found that the only thing hotels were saving by asking guests to reuse towels was money.

1998: The Federal Trade Commission defines terms used in environmental marketing, called green guidelines.

1999: Greenwashing officially becomes part of the English language when the Oxford English Dictionary adds it.

2002: The first Greenwash Academy Awards are held at Earth Summit. The Earth Summit council honors greenwash offenders like Exxon Mobile, British Petroleum and the United States government.

2007: The environmental marketing company, TerraChoice, released a list of six deadly sins of green wash. TerraChoice claimed 99 percent of the 1,018 products they reviewed were guilty of green washing. A seventh sin was added in 2009.

Contact features correspondent Kelley Stoklosa at

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1. Sin of the Hidden Trade-Off: Energy-efficient electronics that contain hazardous materials. This is the most common offense.

2. Sin of No Proof: Products making claims with no verifiable certification from either the FDA or reliable third party. Paper products claiming to be made from a certain percentage of recycled material are an example.

3. Sin of Vagueness: Products claiming to be 100 percent natural when many naturally occurring substances are harmful. Arsenic and formaldehyde, commonly found in cigarettes, are natural but linked to cancer.

4. Sin of Irrelevance: Claims that make little or no impact. Products claiming to be CFC free, despite the government banning chlorofluorocarbon more than 20 years ago, fall into this category.

5. Sin of Fibbing: Products falsely claiming to be certified by an internationally recognized environmental standard like EcoLogo, Energy Star or Green Seal, when no such endorsement exists.

6. Sin of Lesser of Two Evils: Organic cigarettes or “environmentally friendly” pesticides.

7. Sin of Worshipping False Labels: Alluding to endorsement by a third party when no endorsement exists.

Educate yourself about your favorite products by visiting websites that investigate products and companies, such as,,, and