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February 28, 2008

The Six Sins of Greenwashing appear to be pushing through a merger with the Seven Deadly Sins lately in scheming to lead corporations astray, their loyal customers trailing after them. Making misleading claims about environmental practices, or about the environmental benefits of their products or services—aka greenwashing—is a powerful temptation for companies in a culture that’s increasingly leaning green.

The Six Sins of Greenwashing were identified late last year—ironically enough, by a marketing firm after it examined the claims of products sold in big box stores. Of the 1,018 products reviewed by TerraChoice Environmental Marketing Inc., all but one committed one of the Six Sins. Of the six—the Sin of the Hidden Trade-Off, the Sin of No Proof, the Sin of Vagueness, the Sin of Irrelevance, the Sin of Fibbing, and the Sin of Lesser of Two Evils—my favorite is the Sin of Irrelevance. You’ve got to marvel at the sleight of hand: A common example is a product’s claim to be free of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) when CFCs have been legally banned for almost 30 years.

This rampant flimflam depends on our ignorance. We’re more effectively programmed as consumers than informed as citizens today, susceptible to advertising campaigns rather than skilled in applying logic and hard facts to our exercise of freedom of choice. But we can still learn to ask pertinent questions, so we don’t fall prey to the Six Sins. For example, to avoid succumbing to the Sin of Irrelevance, we can ask whether all other products in the same category could make the same claim.

For more schooling in the Six Sins and how to resist them, go to terrachoice.com/sixsinsofgreenwashing.