We've all been greenwashed with enviro-guilt

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Listen up, tree-huggers! If you have ever bought an environmentally friendly product, chances are you have been greenwashed.

New research from Ottawa-based marketing firm TerraChoice found 99 per cent of items it researched were guilty of greenwashing " the act of misleading consumers about a product’s environmental benefits.

TerraChoice looked at over 1,000 common products with various green claims, many of which were found to be irrelevant, misleading or completely false.

Recently, Vancouver yoga attire chain Lululemon Athletica was caught greenwashing, as its line of seaweed-infused clothing made of VitaSea fabric was found to falsely claim a variety of health benefits.

The federal government’s Competition Bureau investigated Lululemon’s claims of therapeutic benefits in its VitaSea clothing, such as making a wearer’s skin feel smooth and dry.

Larry Bryenton, acting assistant deputy commissioner at the Competition Bureau, said the yoga chain had nothing on which to base its claims.

“[Lululemon] agreed to withdraw the claims immediately,” Bryenton said, adding Lululemon was very positive and quick to resolve the issue.

It has removed the tags with the claims or placed stickers over them until it can prove the claim scientifically.

According to TerraChoice president Scott McDougall, Lululemon’s problem is the “Sin of No Proof,” one of six “Sins of Greenwashing” identified by TerraChoice.

The six Sins also include hidden trade-offs, vagueness, irrelevance, the lesser of two evils and fibbing.

While McDougall said the sins were just a cute way to organize TerraChoice’s findings, he added they are tools for consumers to scrutinize what they’re being offered.

“We’re not alleging these products may not be greener in some way or might not live up to the commitments made in the marketing,” McDougall said.

“We’re studying the marketing itself, not the product ... [and many] claims are not wholly transparent or clear.”

However, he noted many products on the market are genuinely green, such as those certified by the government’s Eco Logo program.

Bryenton assured, “We’re aware of companies making representations in the marketplace and we’re monitoring them like other consumer issues out there,” he added.

First-year social science student Brodie Townley, a purchaser of biodegradable goods, said greenwashing manipulates consumers.

“It’s not a good start to how we’re trying to get more green,” Townley added.

Rachel Krahn, a second-year history student, said these practices happen all of the time.

“I’m wary of advertising to begin with,” Krahn said.

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