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The question is how to gauge a label’s legitimacy.

“There are more than 600 environmental labels floating around,” says Scot Case, director of market development for UL Environment. “I can go online and get one for $30. But what was the review process? Who conducted the review? What protocol did they use?” The good news, he says, is that the market is “busy whittling the number of labels down to those that have meaning.”

Labels relied upon by the people interviewed for this article included familiar names like Energy Star, WaterSense, EcoLogo, Green-Guard, and ecoScorecard. Case says that buyers can do due diligence on other certifications by making sure they are based on some recognized standard, like ISO 14024 or NSSF 140, and that the product’s green attributes have been verified by an independent lab such as UL.

While product certification is important, some companies extend branding to the entire company. For instance, CertainTeed recently published a corporate sustainability report that documents its environmental progress, including a substantial reduction in energy use by its facilities. “We believe it’s important to offer our customers a degree of transparency,” says Aman Desouza, director of innovation & product sustainability.

Atlanta-based commercial carpet manufacturer Interface (FLOR’s parent company), also claims to value such transparency. It relies on internally generated Environmental Product Declarations, or EPDs: brief, third-party verified reports that document the environmental impacts of its products and its manufacturing process. “The transparency provided by an EPD is important to sophisticated customers such as architects and designers on the commercial side,” says Erin Meezan, the company’s VP of sustainability. “It has really helped us market our green products.”

Meezan says that the secret to doing this successfully is to stick to the facts. “The EPD is like a nutrition label for food. We do a life cycle assessment [of a product’s environmental impact], have it third-party verified, then make it available to the customer.” The EPD is only credible if it’s free of marketing spin.

Info Marketing
That just-the-facts approach is the key to cracking the green market, according to the companies doing it successfully. Horowitz finds that green buyers want to be informed about environmental issues, and respond very well to information-based marketing. The vehicle for delivering that information will depend on the product and the company. A small company that sells sustainable certified wood, for example, might do well with an e-newsletter that provides green building tips and establishes the company’s commitment and expertise. A larger company might want to throw traditional advertising into the mix.


TerraChoice’s Sins of Greenwashing study found that misleading green claims usually aren’t outright lies: most marketers are subtler than that. Companies that want to build trust with their customers should take pains to avoid the seven deadly sins identified by the report.

THE HIDDEN TRADE-OFF. Calling a wood product “green” because it’s from a sustainably-harvested forest can be used to hide the fact that the energy and pollution used to process and transport it is unacceptable.

NO PROOF. Claiming that an insulation has 70% post-consumer recycled content means nothing if not verified by a third party.

VAGUENESS. Terms like “all natural” can hide a multitude of harms. After all, uranium, mercury, and formaldehyde are all naturally occurring.

IRRELEVANCE. Lots of products are labeled “CFC-free.” It sounds good, but the fact that CFCs are banned by law makes it irrelevant.

LESSER OF TWO EVILS. A “fuel-efficient SUV” may get better mileage compared to other SUVs, but the comparison distracts the buyer from the greater environmental impacts of the category.

WORSHIPING FALSE LABELS. Look out for products that use misleading words or images to imply third-party endorsement that they don’t have without making an outright claim.

FIBBING. Fortunately, the study found that the outright lie—such as claiming an Energy Star certification that you don’t actually have— is the least common sin. But it still occurs.

Full Report:


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