The Seven Sins of Greenwashing

In recent years, there has been increasing awareness of the widespread, global environmental degradation facing this generation. Green consumption has become a rising topic of interest as consumers are starting to make more environmentally-conscious purchase decisions. Businesses have responded in turn with eco-friendly branding initiatives hoping to  appeal to a rising “green” consumer demographic. Despite the many opportunities presented to companies throughout the green consumption revolution, greenwashing and other problems have emerged, resulting in consumers questioning the legitimacy of the claims many companies have made on their products. 

Environmental marketing, more popularly known as green marketing or sustainable marketing can be defined as the effort put forth by a company to design, promote, price and distribute products in a manner which promotes environmental protection (Polonsky, 2011). As many consumers began to rank green consumption higher in importance, businesses began to make more eco-friendly decisions. One survey found that 92 percent of European multinationals claimed to have changed their products in response to eco-friendly initiatives (Vandermerwe and Oliff, 1990). 

Greenwashing can be better understood as the dissemination of false or incomplete information by an organization to present an environmentally responsible public image (Furlow, 2010). With the rise of an environmentally-conscious consumer sector and with the popularity of environmental marketing growing amongst businesses, false claims began to circulate on product packaging – confusing the already cautious consumer. This proliferation of environmental disinformation, commonly referred to as greenwashing, has become so widespread in recent years and is recognised as such a big problem that EnviroMedia has developed ‘The Greenwashing Index,’ which monitors the environmental claims made by manufacturers.

The Sins of Greenwashing: Home and Family Edition, the third TerraChoice study since 2007, surveyed 5,296 products in the U.S. and Canada that made an environmental claim. The survey took place between March and May 2010, when TerraChoice researchers visited 19 retail stores in Canada and 15 in the U.S. Among the product categories that were studied were baby care products, toys, office products, building and construction products, cleaning products, housewares, health and beauty products, and consumer electronics (Terra Choice 2010). This survey also brought more staggering information about greenwashing to light: 

    • 95% percent of consumer products that claim to be green have committed at least one “sin” of greenwashing. Of particular concern is that 100 percent of toys and 99.2 percent of baby products surveyed also committed some form of greenwashing.
    • Green claims and incidences of greenwashing were found most frequently on the packages of children’s toys, baby products, cosmetics, and cleaning products, such as diapers, toothpaste, and window cleaners.

In order for businesses to avoid greenwashing, companies are urged to (Ottman, 2008:66):

“Be transparent. Consumers must believe in the legitimacy of your product and the
specific claims you are making. Make sure that consumers feel, by themselves or in
concert with all the other users of your product, that they can make a difference. This
is called empowerment, and it’s the main reason why consumers buy greener
products. This powerful principle underlies so many campaigns laden with simple tips
for lightening one’s impact on the planet.”

Fast-forward to the present, and companies still need to maintain awareness of the corporate social responsibility that they now hold. They need to be careful as regulatory bodies are now in place to monitor greenwashing accusations and company packaging legitimacy. Just one claim found out to be false can impact a company’s entire brand identity.


Air Quality Sciences, Inc. (2010) Defining green products. [online] Available at: <
Furlow, N. (2010). ‘Greenwashing in the new millennium.’ The Journal of Applied Business and Economics, 10(6), 22.
Ottman, J. (1993). Green marketing. Illinois: NTC Business Books.
Ottman, J. (2008). ‘The five simple rules of green marketing.’ Design management review, 19(4), 65-69.
Polonsky, M. (2011). ‘Transformative green marketing: Impediments and opportunities.’
Journal of Business Research, 64(12), 1311-1319.
TerraChoice. 2009. Seven Sins of Greenwashing: Environmental Claims in Consumer Markets. Summary Report North America 2009. TerraChoice Group, Inc. Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. Available online at greenwashing-report-2009/.
TerraChoice. 2010. Sins of Greenwashing: Home and Family Edition. TerraChoice Group, Inc. Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. Available online at findings/greenwashing- report-2010/.
Vandermerwe, S. & Oliff, M. (1990). ‘Customers drive corporations green.’ Long Range Planning, 23(6), 10-16.