RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
On Fridays we talked about your money. And today we're going to take a look at all those supposedly environmentally friendly products you buy: all the shampoos and cleaning agents and granola bars that claim to be natural and Earth-friendly.
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
You might have thought they were environmentally friendly just because the product said so, but some environmentalists think you're being green-washed. And one of them is Scot Case with the environmental marketing firm TerraChoice.
Welcome to the program.
Mr. SCOT CASE (TerraChoice): Thank you, sir.
INSKEEP: We've called you because I understand you looked at the environmental claims of more than a thousand products. Did you find more than a thousand products that helped the environment?
Mr. CASE: Well, what we found were a 1,018 products on the store shelves of six very large box store retailers, all of which were making some sort of environmental marketing claim. But when we dug a little bit deeper, we were actually shocked to discover that all but one committed what we're now calling one of the six sins of green-washing.
INSKEEP: Which - now, wait a minute. Give me an example of a product that was making a claim that wasn't very valid.
Mr. CASE: Well, there were a number of different examples. There were examples of shampoos that claim to be certified organic, yet when we investigated and tried to find any sort of evidence of certification, we found none.
INSKEEP: Give me an idea of the range of this 1,018 products. What are some of the things that you bought?
Mr. CASE: Well, the 1,018 products range from everything, from toothpaste to shampoo to office paper to photocopier/fax machine combos, shaving creams, you name it.
INSKEEP: So you mentioned something called the six sins of green-washing. Is one of those sins just lying then basically?
Mr. CASE: Well, absolutely. One of them is just the sin of fibbing. The biggest sin we found, the largest percentage, is what we're calling the sin of the hidden trade-off, products that promote a single issue such as recycled content. That's important, but there are a wide variety of additional environmental considerations: Was there any pollution during the manufacturing phase? What are the aspects of the products that aren't made of recycled content? Are they also environmentally friendly?
INSKEEP: Are you willing to tell me some brand names of products that I should avoid if I want to be environmentally friendly because they are not telling me the truth or the whole truth about what they're doing?
Mr. CASE: We actually decided not to name specific products. I will tell you, however, I was absolutely shocked by some of the brand names that were committing these sins. We looked at home improvement centers. We looked at general retail centers, grocery stores and pharmacy-type stores. So these are stores that we would all recognize.
INSKEEP: There is one product you must name. You've said that of these 1,018, there was one product that did not have a deceptive or inaccurate or incomplete claim. What is the one product you found?
Mr. CASE: That one product was actually a paper napkin product. Since we didn't name the sinners, I don't think it's fair to name the winner.
(Soundbite of laughter)
INSKEEP: So if I go - it sounds like from your survey, if I go and I want to buy the environmentally responsible brand of shampoo and there's five different brands on the shelf, no matter what they say on the label, every single one of those is not doing very well.
Mr. CASE: Well, they're not providing complete information. However, it's fairly easy to look through the different claims and decide which ones are actually relevant.
INSKEEP: Well, if they're all irrelevant or if they're all deceptive, then I got nothing. What do I buy?
Mr. CASE: Let me give you an example. A lot of the products are labeled CFC-free. They say, hey, it's a CFC...
INSKEEP: Oh, chlorofluorocarbons, which are said to be damaging to the ozone layer, right?
Mr. CASE: Correct. Now, CFCs were actually banned in the United States in 1978. All products are CFC-free. So if you're standing at the store shelf and you see a few products that are making CFC-free claims and other products that are providing more accurate, more useful, more relevant information, buy those products instead. Reward those products that are providing full information about the environmental impacts of their products.
INSKEEP: Even if some of the information is a little bit grim, at least they're telling you the truth.
Mr. CASE: Absolutely. And again, as a lazy consumer I tend to just look for the respective eco-labels like EcoLogo, Green Seal, and others.
INSKEEP: Scot Case is with the environmental marketing firm TerraChoice. Thanks very much.
Mr. CASE: Steve, thank you.
MONTAGNE: And you can learn what some of those labels mean and read all six sins of green-washing at NPR.org.
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