Public Radio Judges 'Green' Products Guilty of 'Greenwashing'

     Sometimes business gives an inch and interest groups want a mile.


     National Public Radio’s “Morning Edition” gave a report November 30 on misleading “green” products, charging companies with “The Six Sins of Greenwashing.”

     “You may have thought they were environmentally friendly, just because the product says so, but some environmentalists think you’re being ‘greenwashed,’” said host Steve Inskeep. “Is one of the sins just lying, then, basically?”

     Scot Case of the environmental marketing firm TerraChoice conveyed that “the biggest sin [they] found … was called ‘The Sin of the Hidden Tradeoff’ for products that promote a single issue … but there are a wide variety of environmental considerations.”

     TerraChoice evaluated 1,018 retail products for their environmental claims and only one was found to be without sin, while the rest were guilty of offenses including “The Sin of the Lesser of Two Evils,” “The Sin of Fibbing,” and “The Sin of No Proof.”

     So, what’s TerraChoice’s solution?

     According to Case, consumers should reward products that provide the most accurate and useful information about how their products are eco-friendly.

     No representatives for the businesses were included in the report, although Case was careful not to name the products outright. Nevertheless, he was “absolutely shocked by some of the brand names that were committing these sins,” which came off the shelves of six big-box retailers.

     The Business & Media Institute pointed out recently that often when businesses decide to “go green” they may end up in the red.

     On October 5, MarketWatch wrote that while some green decisions “can improve margins,” there are a “lot of upfront costs,” according to Sanford Bernstein analyst Ali Dibadj. For example, changes in packaging require changes in advertising and so on, explained MarketWatch.

     “Procter (NYSE:PG) [& Gamble] said one-time costs for new molds, manufacturing changeover costs, retail conversion costs and higher marketing support would hurt fiscal 2008 earnings by a few cents a share, but that the changes would eventually help retailers, consumers and its own supply chain,” the article continued.

     BusinessWeek also exposed major flaws of greening businesses in an October 29 article called “Little Green Lies.”

     Environmentalist Auden Schendler, who works for Aspen Skiing Company, was honored by Time magazine in 2006 as a “Climate Crusader” but is now critical of efforts by corporations to go green and especially the use of “renewable energy credits.”

     “I’ve succeeded in doing a lot of sexy projects yet utterly failed in what I set out to do,” Schendler told the BusinessWeek. “How do you really green your company? It’s almost f------ impossible.”

     BusinessWeek conceded that many of the major initiatives to green business “simply aren’t money-savers” and come with “daunting price tags.”

     Business & Media Institute Director Dan Gainor told CNBC’s “Power Lunch” November 9, "The problem is companies are spending tons of green going green ... for some things, Wal-Mart has found some solutions that make a lot of sense, but then you look at Fed-Ex, they found that just going to hybrid trucks ... were 75 percent more expensive.”

     The NPR Shop, an online store selling products related to NPR, has a “Green Room” of its own selling everything from organic tote bags to recycled glass goblets, which poses the question: Is NPR committing any sins of its own?