Most "green" products seen to make false claims

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Just 2 percent of the growing number of self-proclaimed green products on store shelves make completely legitimate claims on their labels, a report by consulting firm TerraChoice Environmental Marketing said on Wednesday.

The remainder commit “greenwashing” sins, that is they mislead consumers about the environmental benefits of a product or the practices of a company, said TerraChoice, which runs the Canadian government’s eco-labeling program and counts companies as diverse as Canon and Husky Energy among its customers.

The number of green products available in stores surveyed by TerraChoice increased dramatically between 2007 and 2009, the report said, and marketing claims became more creative.

TerraChoice increased its list of greenwashing sins this year to seven from six, adding “worship of false labels” for marketers who mimic third-party environmental certifications on their products to entice consumers.

Other sins in the report include lack of proof, vagueness, irrelevance and outright lying. Products that make environmental claims and are sold in big box stores in the United States, Canada, Britain, and Australia were surveyed.

TerraChoice researchers recorded product details, claims, supporting information, and manufacturers’ offers of more information or support.

They then tested the claims against best practice guidelines provided by the Canadian Competition Bureau, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, the Australian Consumer and Competition Commission, and the standard for environmental labeling set by the International Organization for Standardization.

“The good news is that the growing availability of green products shows that consumers are demanding more environmentally responsible choices and that marketers and manufacturers are listening”, said TerraChoice Chief Executive Scott McDougall.

“The bad news is that TerraChoice’s survey of 2,219 consumer products in Canada and the U.S. shows that 98 percent committed at least one sin of greenwashing and that some marketers are exploiting consumers’ demand for third-party certification by creating fake labels or false suggestions of third-party endorsement.”

Reporting by Susan Taylor; editing by Peter Galloway