Most 'green product' claims are misleading

Nearly all “green” consumer products make at least one false, misleading or unproven environmental claim

by Ian Angus

A few weeks ago in Climate & Capitalism, I reported a Canadian government study that found “misleading label information on 63% of candy items, 59% of breads and baked goods; and 49% of snack foods.”  This, I concluded, was “just another proof that consumer sovereignty is a meaningless phrase.”

There’s more proof today, in an Ottawa Citizen article reporting a massive study of  5,296 products.  Environmental marketing firm TerraChoice “found at least one misleading green claim on 95.6 per cent of the items.”

The situation is even worse for children’s products, with all toys and 99.2 per cent of baby products guilty of some form of “greenwashing” when they make environmental claims.

“We did not find a single ‘green’ toy that was free of greenwashing, and only six of 706 baby products were ‘sin-free,’ ” the report noted. …

The use of fake labels was also found to be on the rise; When TerraChoice returned to the same stores this year, three in 10 items (30.9 per cent) carried a certification-like logo so that consumers would think a third-party approved the product as green, up from 23.3 per cent last year.

Or, as I said in my previous article, even the best labeling system can’t guarantee that consumers know what they are buying. To but it bluntly, the bastards lie.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Posted in Consumers

4 Responses to Most 'green product' claims are misleading

  1. Jeff White November 7, 2010 at 1:38 am #

    Thanks to Mikko for drawing our attention to the IEA report.

    The Fair Trade movement is not without its critics on the left. A Canadian politics professor, Gavin Fridell, has written a book called Fair Trade Coffee: The Prospects and Pitfalls of Market-Driven Social Justice.

    From an article in the Toronto Star:

    Sales of Fair Trade coffee have quadrupled in Canada in the last decade, to more than 600 tonnes a year, Fridell writes. Worldwide, some 20,000 tonnes are sold each year, with a growth rate of almost 40 per cent as the coffee moves into new markets.

    In his book, however, Fridell charges that such growth has come because Fair Trade has veered far from its founding goals more than 60 years ago to build an alternative trading system that emphasizes social justice and sustainable development over profit.

    Instead, he says, Fair Trade has become caught up in consumer culture, and risks becoming little more that an “ethical fig leaf” for companies trying to ride on Fair Trade’s coat-tails to attract socially conscious customers.

    Such a pairing, Fridell warns, could ultimately prove to be Fair Trade’s downfall. “Fair Trade has made gains, but at the expense of being co-opted.”

  2. Mikko Virtanen November 6, 2010 at 3:38 pm #

    Interesting that the TerraChoice study cited by Ottawa Citizen considers labels such as Rainforest Alliance, PEFC and FSC as “legitimate” (p.30). I didn’t go through all the labels considered “legitimate”, possibly some other false labels included also.

    Pdf of the study here:

    Additional info:

    Rainforest alliance:



  3. Mikko Virtanen November 6, 2010 at 2:23 pm #

    A right-wing think tank, Institute of Economic Affairs, has just published a study critical of Fair Trade, supporting “free trade and liberalised markets”, and claiming that “poverty persists because of the poor environment for business and entrepreneurship that exists in many countries” (p. 118). Yeah right.


    The report:

    SourceWatch on The Institute of Economic Affairs

    Fair Trade Association Reply:

  4. Antonis Petropoulos October 27, 2010 at 7:57 am #

    A solution for genuine green products is workers’ self management and emphasis on local products. When the consumers are the workers themselves, family & friends, lying is less likely.

    On the other hand, headlines, based on data gathered by “environmental marketing firms” (self-serving to justify better ecolabelling?) that create public doubts about all green products may benefit large capitalist transnational dinosaurs.