Greenwashing Dupes Consumers
Plenty of products these days claim to be environmentally friendly, recyclable or biodegradable. And the list of buzzwords for environmental marketing claims continues to grow. But how many of these claims stretch the truth just to sell more product? By creating a set of regulations, Hubert Humphrey III says he hopes to stop what he calls green-collar crime.
Humphrey, Minnesota’s attorney general, has become a national leader in this quest for consistency and accuracy in the use of environmental claims. He currently heads a task force to address the situation with 10 other state attorneys general.
On behalf of all states, this task force prepared Green Report II, a 50-page list of recommendations on green marketing. The report has been submitted to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for consideration and distributed to the corporate world, as well.
“Green Report II goes a long way toward establishing guidelines for marketers,” Humphrey said. “Many companies are trying to do the right thing, but we need to keep the green revolution on the right course by establishing standards and enforcing them at both state and national levels.”
The FTC held hearings on the subject in July. And Humphrey has testified before a Senate subcommittee regarding a bill that calls for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to get involved in green marketing.
“Both the FTC and the EPA have roles to play,” Humphrey said. “The FTC should monitor the day-to-day activities to prevent green-collar fraud, while the EPA has the expertise to define long-term standards. We have a unique situation where consumer protection is merging with environmental protection.”
But the consumer has a role to play as well, he added.
“As we walk down the supermarket aisles, our choices are affecting the environment,” Humphrey said. “And those choices need to be driven by more than just price and quality. That’s why I want to see more accurate information presented to the public.”
However, government control isn’t the consumer’s only hope to achieve more accurate and consistent product claims. Humphrey said he is optimistic about the industry’s own self-regulation efforts. Certification programs like Green Seal and Green Cross, which designate products that are beneficial to the environment, also will help the effort, he noted.
“Certification programs can be very valuable in developing an atmosphere of trust,” he said. “These programs should require producers to maximize efforts, where the FTC and EPA will establish minimum standards.”
If Humphrey achieves his goals, the old warning “buyer beware” no longer will be a consumer’s only source of protection from false environmental claims.
Stat: Shoppers make an average 2.3 trips to the grocery store every week. Eliminating one of those trips would save time and energy.