1. The Sin of the Hidden Trade-off, which occurs when one environmental issue is emphasized at the expense of potentially more serious concerns. In other words, when marketing hides a trade-off between environmental issues. Paper, for example, is not necessarily environmentally preferable just because it comes from a sustainably harvested forest.
2. The Sin of No Proof. This happens when environmental assertions are not backed up by evidence or third-party certification. One common example is facial tissue products that claim various percentages of post-consumer recycled content without providing any supporting details.
3. The Sin of Vagueness, which occurs when a marketing claim is so lacking in specifics as to be meaningless. “All-natural” is an example of this sin. Arsenic, uranium, mercury, and formaldehyde are all naturally occurring—and poisonous. “All-natural” isn’t necessarily “green.”
4. The (new) Sin of Worshipping False Labels. This is when marketers create a false suggestion or a certification-like image to mislead consumers into thinking that a product has been through a legitimate green certification process. One example of this sin is a brand of aluminum foil with certification-like images that show the name of the company’s own in-house environmental program for which there is no explanation.
5. The Sin of Irrelevance. This sin arises when an environmental issue unrelated to the product is emphasized. One example is the claim that a product is “CFC-free,” since CFCs are banned by law.
6. The Sin of Lesser of Two Evils, which occurs when an environmental claim makes consumers feel “green” about a product category that is itself lacking in environmental benefits. Organic cigarettes are an example of this sin.
7. The Sin of Fibbing. This is when environmental claims are outright false. One common example is products falsely claiming to be Energy Star-certified.
A full copy of “The 2009 Seven Sins of Greenwashing” report is available online.