How rampant is ‘greenwashing’ (in voluntourism)?

By Joe Ascanio
A new study released by eco-marketing company TerraChoice reveals that the availability of “green” products available for purchase is on the rise. This is arguably no more true than in travel, and in volunteer travel to an extent.

However, according to the same study, over 95% of the “green” consumer products available today are guilty of at least one count of “greenwashing”; defined as the act of misleading consumers about the environmental practices of a company or the environmental benefits of a product or service.

The 2010 study, The Sins of Greenwashing: Home and Family Edition, also found that “big box” retailers stock more legitimately “green” products than smaller “green” boutique-style stores.

According to TerraChoice, greenwashing has declined slightly since 2009, with 4.5% of products now “sin free,” compared to only 2% in 2009. The study also found that marketers and product manufacturers are getting better, with greenwashing down among those who have been focused on environmentally preferable practices longer than others.

“We found 73% more ‘green’ products on the market today than in 2009,” said Scott McDougall, president, TerraChoice. “This is great news and it shows that consumers are changing the world by demanding greener goods, and that marketers and manufacturers are taking note.”

The TerraChoice study, the third since 2007, surveyed 5,296 products in the United States and Canada that make an environmental claim. Between March and May 2010, TerraChoice visited 19 retail stores in Canada and 15 in the United States.

Researchers documented product details, claim details, any supporting information on labels or store shelves, and any explanatory details or offers of additional information or support. TerraChoice researchers catalogued a total of 5,296 products and a total of 12,061 “green” claims made by those products. Those claims were tested against best practice and guidelines provided by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, the Competition Bureau of Canada, and the ISO 14021 standard for environmental labeling.

“The increase from just 2 percent to 4.5 percent may seem small, but we see it as early evidence of a positive and long lasting trend,” said McDougall. “We are also pleased with the finding that those home and family product categories that are more mature have less greenwashing and more reliable green certification.”

Product categories studied in the 2010 report include baby care products, toys, office products, building and construction products, cleaning products, housewares, health and beauty products, and consumer electronics.

“Greenwashing is an issue that touches many industries, and education and awareness play a key role in helping to prevent it,” said Stephen Wenc, president, UL Environment. “We’re hopeful that the trends and tips identified in this study will help our business partners confidently and appropriately share their environmental achievements with their consumers.”

For more information, visit http://www.sinsofgreenwashing.org, and for a voluntourism provider that hopefully is as green as we claim, check out Hands Up Holidays.

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