BBB Tip: Watch Out for "Greenwashing"

BBB Tip: Watch Out for "Greenwashing"

Person wiping green spot with spongeShare:

Considering “going green” and buying environmentally safe products? In recognition of Earth Day on April 22, Better Business Burea (BBB) encourages consumers to watch out for green marketing claims that sound great but may be misleading.

According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), many marketers use “greenwashing”—the act of misleading consumers regarding environmental benefits of a product—to convince consumers their products are environmentally friendly. The FTC advises consumers look for specific information on packages and products that explain why the product is green.

So, how do you differentiate real “green” products from those claiming to be eco-friendly? BBB and the FTC advises consumers seeking green products to watch out for the following red flags:

  • Products advertised as “Free Of.” Companies that use claims such as, “free of,” “non-toxic” or “ozone-friendly” may be a concern. Products that are “free of” a chemical or ingredient should be able to prove that the product doesn’t have any more than a harmless trace amount of it—and that the product is free of any other ingredient that poses the same kind of risk. If a product states that it is “non-toxic,” the product should have proof that it’s safe for both humans and the environment, or should specifically state which one the claim applies to.

  • Products that claim to use less waste. A company stating their product produces less waste should have an example, statistic or comparison to back up their claim. The label should use language like “package is made from 85 percent post-consumer recycled material.”

  • Biodegradable or compostable material. Lots of products claim to be “degradable” or “biodegradable,” which means they break down into elements found in nature when exposed to light, air and moisture. Others claim to be compostable, which means they should break down in a home compost pile. If a product says it’s degradable or compostable, the company should have proof that it will break down completely.

  • Made with renewable materials, renewable energy or carbon offsets. Manufacturers should be able to tell you what percentage of the product or packaging was made using renewable materials or renewable energy.

  • Official-looking seals and certifications. Some products may contain official-looking seals and certifications with words like “Earth Smart.” But what does that mean? Look for information on packaging that indicates connections the company has to the organization behind the seal. Consider doing some research of the seal and organization online. 

Last Reviewed April 19, 2017