"Everybody wants to be green these days, but some businesses and governments try to cheat. They implement token measures for public relations reasons that don't significantly increase efficiency, reduce carbon emissions or clean or restore the environment. Many in the environmental community call it 'greenwashing,'"
- Kristin Heinen, assistant director of the Collaborative of High Performance School (CHPS)
According to the TerraChoice Group, Inc., authors of the internationally recognized paper titled "Seven Sins of Greenwashing", the term greenwashing is defined as:
“verb: the act of misleading consumers and others regarding the environmental benefits of a product or service.”
The misrepresentation of products or services will usually fall within one or more of the seven ‘sin’ categories. Let's look at the water-savings claims made for some products, services,and practices that appear to have greenwashed their way right into one the seven categories:
#1-Sin of Hidden Trade-off – Suggesting that a product is 'green' based upon a single attribute.
Claims: Water-cooled ice makers are more energy efficient; Tankless water heaters save energy.
Truths: Water-cooled ice makers are only more energy efficient than air cooled machines when ignoring the energy used by the water provider to treat and pump the water to the machine. Tankless water heaters save energy, but waste water.
#2-Sin of No Proof – Claims that cannot be substantiated by easily accessible data or by a reliable third party
Claim: Sensor-activated flush valves and faucet valves save water
#3-Sin of Vagueness – Claims so poorly defined or broad that the meaning is likely to be misunderstood
Claim: Magnetic water softener technology saves water
Truth: Description of softener operation is murky and not clear. Cannot verify that any savings occur.
#4-Sin of Irrelevance – Claim may be true, but is unimportant and unhelpful.
"My toilet can flush 25 golf balls!"
"This toilet can flush a potato!"
"This toilet's glazed trapway improves performance."
Truth: Flushing golf balls or potatoes is entirely unrelated to the real 'demand' upon a toilet's ability to remove waste. Trapway glazing may only benefit for the first few months of toilet use, until such time as the trapway is coated with other material.
Suggsted response: "Yes, Mr. Salesman, the next time I have to flush 25 golf balls, I'll be sure to buy your toilet!"
#5-Sin of Fibbing - Making environmental claims that are simply false (usually representing that a product is "certified" by an independent agency or organization)
Claim: Product is "LEED-certified" or "Energy Star-certified".
Truth: Neither organization or program currently 'certifies' products.
#6-Sin of Lesser of Two Evils - "Green" claims that may be true but that distract from the big picture
Claim: The showerheads in our multi-head system are very efficient.
Truth: While the individual showerheads may be efficient, the entire multi-head showering system is not.
#7-Sin of Worshiping False Labels - through either words or images, giving the impression of third-party endorsement where no such endorsement actually exists, e.g., fake labels.
Claim: This product meets all the requirements of our (specially designed and authentic) "Fake Green Label"
Truth: Fake labels offer no assurance of 'greenness' or efficiency. Only labels that require a legitimate, independent third-party certification process should be considered as indicators of green attributes. For a listing of those North American labeling programs that include a certification component, see Exhibit 4 in the Seven Sins report.