EarthTalk: Green Certification for Consumer Products : Separating the Wheat from the Chaff

EarthTalk® is a weekly environmental column made available to our readers from the editors of E/The Environmental Magazine

How can I tell if the green certifications and labels on all kinds of products these days are legitimate or just ‘greenwashing’? – Paul Bass, New York, NY

As sustainability becomes more mainstream, more and more products today advertise their green credentials—with many displaying third-party certifications on their labels. But how can consumers know which certifications are legit?

Americans’ confidence in green labels reached a low in 2011 when the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) busted “Tested Green” for selling unverified environmental certifications backed up by unqualified “experts” at supposedly independent firms that were actually owned by the same person. Tested Green used its website and mass e-mails to drum up more than 100 customers—and six figure revenues—falsely claiming to be the “nation’s leading certification program with over 45,000 certifications in the United States.” According to the FTC, the company never tested any of the companies it certified and instead awarded use of its label and a link to a “certification verification page” on its website for any customer willing to spend $189.95 on a “Rapid” certification, or $549.95 for a “Pro” certification.

Tested Green is far from the only such case the FTC has pursued. The agency has investigated thousands of cases of misleading green labeling and works hard to ferret out and shut down offenders. “It’s no secret that consumers want products that are environmentally friendly, and that companies are trying to meet that need,” says Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “But companies that don’t have evidence to support the environmental claims they make about their products erode consumer confidence and undermine those companies that are playing by the rules.”Americans’ confidence in green labels reached a low in 2011 when the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) busted “Tested Green” for selling unverified environmental certifications backed up by unqualified “experts” at supposedly independent firms that were actually owned by the same person. Tested Green used its website and mass e-mails to drum up more than 100 customers—and six figure revenues—falsely claiming to be the “nation’s leading certification program with over 45,000 certifications in the United States.” According to the FTC, the company never tested any of the companies it certified and instead awarded use of its label and a link to a “certification verification page” on its website for any customer willing to spend $189.95 on a “Rapid” certification, or $549.95 for a “Pro” certification.

The FTC also hopes to stem the rising tide of greenwashing through publication of its free Green Guides, which help companies understand the general principles that apply to all environmental marketing claims, how consumers are likely to interpret particular claims and how to substantiate such claims, and how to back up claims to avoid deceiving consumers. First released in 1992 and revised most recently in 2012, the latest version incorporates guidance on the use of third-party certification seals and claims about carbon offsets and “renewable” materials and energy sources.

For their part, consumers should investigate any green certification labels they see on products to ascertain whether or not they are valid. Some of the certifications we know we can all trust include the federal government’s USDA Organic label for organically produced food, the ENERGY STAR label for energy efficient electronics and appliances; independent agency certifications from Cradle to Cradle for manufacturers, the Rainforest Alliance for coffee and other tropical agricultural goods, the Forest Stewardship Council for timber and wood producers, and the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED program for construction and building.

Perhaps the granddaddy of all third-party eco-certifications is Green Seal, which has certified thousands of businesses, government agencies and nonprofits since its inception in 1989 and essentially started the green labeling movement. While some regional, industry and proprietary labels may be valid as well, buyers should be wary of any certifications they haven’t heard of or can’t verify via a quick check online. One way to find out if an eco label is legit is by checking it out on the Ecolabel Index, the largest global directory of sustainability oriented certification labels, currently tracking 463 ecolabels in 199 countries across 25 industry sectors.

EarthTalk® is written and edited by Roddy Scheer and Doug Moss and is a registered trademark of E – The Environmental Magazine.

Image credit: Don Buciak II, courtesy flickr

Asian Cosmetic Sales Boom, But Greenwashing an Issue

With a booming market in Asia for cosmetics comes concerns of greenwashing As purchasing power rises in Asia, the sale of cosmetics has continued to increase. However, the growth has come with a backlash, as some are claiming that Asian cosmetics are engaging in “greenwashing” of their products.

According to industry watchdog group Organic Monitor, many Western brands that specialize in natural and organic cosmetics have withdrawn from the market in China, complaining about animal testing methods they claim are used in China.

But in other markets in Asia, the natural cosmetics business is booming. Overall, the natural cosmetics market in Asia is growing by 15 percent, according to Organic Monitor.

Asian cosmetic boom

Hong Kong now has, possibly, the highest number of green cosmetic retailers on the globe, according to Organic Monitor. Brands with stores in Hong Kong include: Apivita, Jasmin Skincare, Aveda, Neal’s Yard Remedies, Jurlique, Melvita and Comvita.

Meanwhile, Japan remains a world center for cosmetics, or, as the Wall Street Journal reported, a “breeding ground” for beauty trends. South Korea has also become a big market in cosmetics. Overall, Asia is expected to account for almost half of the cosmetic sales around the world in 2015.

Most countries in the region are reporting double-digit percentage growth in the number of cosmetic sales, according to Organic Monitor.

However, environmental issues are a big concern in the rapidly growing Asian market.

Greenwashing cosmetic products

A report on stated that Organic Monitor believes the Asian market is “rife” with cosmetic brands making false claims about being natural or organic products. Some, the report stated, have placed fake logos and symbols on cosmetic products to promote them as being organic or natural products.

Such false marketing has led to confusion among consumers about which companies are truly offering “green” products.

The site also reported, however, that the market for natural cosmetic products is growing, particularly in Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia. And Organic Monitor reports on its site that China remains a huge market despite the “greenwashing” issue.

Still, the country is being hurt by its lack of green products, according to the watchdog group, which posted this on its site: “Growing consumer awareness of health & wellness issues is boosting demand for organic and natural products. Few Chinese companies however are producing natural and organic cosmetics because of formulation and ingredient issues.”

The issue will certainly be taken up at the upcoming sustainable cosmetic summits. One will be held in Sao Paulo, Brazil, in September while another is Paris in October.


Matthew Speer, from iFame Media provided this article on behalf of Imagine Sports, the leading baseball simulation game on the market today. You can check them out at

Matthew McConaughey Doesn’t Want You to Hug Trees, Just Drive a Lincoln

I can’t tell if a recent Matthew McConaughey Lincoln ad is really meant to be taken seriously (or just seriously sell cars). It seems like a Saturday Night Live spoof at first. I checked to make sure it wasn’t actually Saturday night as I watched.

It’s not about huggin’ trees

Matthew McConaughey stares off into the distance and philosophizes how life is all about balance – finding that “sweet spot.”

With a grove of trees in the background, McConaughey, looking all mysterious and wise, intones “It isn’t about huggin’ trees.” As shot widens to show him leaning against a Lincoln MKZ hybrid he continues, “It’s not about being wasteful, either…”

We then see McConaughey driving on an empty freeway toward the shining city on a hill of Los Angeles illuminated in the distance, and he brings it home:

“You just gotta find that balance where takin’ care of yourself…takes care of more than…just yourself.”

That’s what happens when you buy a Lincoln hybrid, you take care of more than yourself. “That’s the sweet spot.”

In my opinion, this sort of ad isn’t nearly the level of greenwash than what Mazda did by co-opting Dr. Suess’ The Lorax to sell the CX-5 SUV with an absolutely meaningless “Certified Truffula Tree Seal of Approval.” The Lorax was introduced as a means of introducing children to environmental issues in the 1970’s. It seems pretty cynical to use a child’s tale of environmental awareness to sell an SUV.

Lincoln is much more subtle. Frankly, the ad is more about McConaughey and figuring out who the hell he’s talking to than it is to promote a blatant greenwashed environmental message.

Having your cake and eating it too

Certainly Lincoln is on to something. Apparently, the series of ads featuring McConaughey’s mysterious ramblings to himself has boosted sales by as much as 25 percent. A scan of the ads on Lincoln’s YouTube channel shows both men and women swooning Matthew McConaughey. “I want one!” exclaims one guy (I assume he meant the MKZ). Sellin’ cars, baby.

Yet, it’s clear that we still don’t get it. I can imagine how the ad VPs at Lincoln struggled with trying to sell the advantages of a hybrid vehicle without making it sound like a bunch of tree-hugging hippie environmentalist claptrap.  After all, it’s not about hugging trees, is it? It’s a car, albeit one with respectable gas mileage.

I hate to be the downer here, but it is kinda about hugging trees, or however you want to characterize the idea of being environmentally aware of our consumer choices. One comment among the many adoring fans on the YouTube channel wrapped it up fairly succinctly:

…nice effort, but big business is still just mocking and manipulating humanity

The power of advertising

We don’t need to get into a discussion about whether all big business is “evil.” Got an iPhone? ‘Nuff said. My point is that ads like this, if very subtly, discount the true environmental message while at the same time take advantage of it. Whether it a Toyota Prius, a Chevy Volt, a Lincoln MKZ or any other hybrid or electric vehicle, it’s still a car. Ideally, we could get by with public transit and a car sharing service, but it just isn’t practical for most. Nonetheless, why not use the most efficient model that meets our needs?

I’ll admit this commercial is certainly better than most of the car commercials I see on television. But the subtle messaging given from a hunky, popular cult figure masks the reality that using any car is mostly helping ourselves, not anyone else.


Another take on the Matthew McConaughey Lincoln Ad: Walking hand in hand to extinction


Pepsi True: Truly a Healthy Choice or Marketing Greenwashing?

Pepsi True uses extract from the Stevia leaf to help sweeten the drinkPepsiCola’s recent attempts at releasing products to attract environmentally aware consumers is being singled out by some as one of corporate America’s most blatant – and ineffective – attempts at greenwashing the public.

Pepsi recently followed in the steps of Coca-Cola in introducing a “mid-calorie” soda. Pepsi True comes in a green can (to help promote it as being a healthy alternative) and has 60 calories, 30 percent less than a regular Pepsi. It is currently available only on but is expected to be available through traditional retailers by early 2015.

Coca-Cola offers as similar product with its Coca Cola Life. Business observers believe the two soft drink giants are looking to diversify product lines in the face of declining diet drink sales and because of mounting criticism about the role of sodas in the nation’s rising cases of obesity.

A kinder, friendlier soft drink

In announcing Pepsi True, the soft drink company said over the past six years it has been committed to developing products that demonstrate Pepsi’s dedication to “calorie reduction and consumer choice.”

The announcement specifically mentioned Sobe Lifewater, G2 and Trop50, all beverages that lowered the amount of sugar and calories in the regular versions of the drink.

Pepsi said the use of a combination of real sugar and stevia leaf extract helped reduce the amount of sugar in Pepsi True. They also mention the drink contains no high-fructose corn syrup or artificial sweeteners.

Critics applauded the improvement but maintain it doesn’t make drinking soda that much better for you and that it does not live up to its “green” billing.

Pepsi accused of greenwashing

In Salon, an online magazine, an article took Pepsi to task for trying to market Pepsi True and another new product, Caleb Kola, to appeal to “hipsters” and those worried about living a more healthy and sustainable lifestyle.

Caleb Kola is marketed as “craft” soda that is sweetened with real sugar and served in glass bottles. It’s currently available in Costco stores in Maryland, Virginia, Washington D.C. and New York. Salon pointed out that while Caleb Kola has not been artificially sweetened, it does contain 29 grams of sugar. That’s less than a regular Pepsi but more than the recommended daily supply of sugar.

The World Health Organization recently dropped its recommended daily intact of sugar to about 25 grams per day. The reason why? For one thing, the National Institutes of Health has conducted studies showing that those who eat more than the recommended amount of sugar end up consuming more calories overall. Ultimately it can lead to a higher risk of heart disease, obesity and diabetes.

“This is still soda we’re talking about,” the article stated. “If consumers are as discerning as Pepsi et al. seem to fear, they’ll just stick to water.”

That sentiment was echoed by one consumer who tasted Pepsi True and was quoted in the New York Daily News. Asked about the product, the taster said, “It’s a canned contradiction, because if you’re trying to be healthy, you’re really supposed to avoid soda.

“Why grant yourself such a small indulgence when flavored seltzer is just as good?”


iFame Media, provided this article on behalf of Fun Crew USA, a company dedicated to providing spectacular portable zip line rental services and inflatable movie screen rentals in Central Florida.

Image credit Magda Wojtyra, courtesy flickr

Environmentalists Continue to Call for Tighter Controls on Fracking

Companies greenwash the process of frackingDevelopment of the technology and techniques used in hydraulic fracturing – commonly referred to as fracking – has directly resulted in a vast expansion of the United States oil and natural gas industry. This new method of reaching previously unreachable reserves of fossil fuels should mean a large energy supply for the country for years to come.

It’s also billed as being environmentally safe. But is it?

Many accuse companies that use fracking to be “greenwashing” the public, convincing them that the process of fracking is safe in order to keep money flowing in the multi-million industry. A growing number of people are beginning to protest the use of the process.

It was even the subject of the 2012 film Promised Land starring Matt Damon that centered around a company that tries to bring fracking to a small town.

How hydraulic fracturing works

There are large reserves of oil and natural gas buried deep within the earth, much of it trapped in places that can’t be reached through conventional drilling. Deposits within shale are called “tight oil” or “tight gas” and in the past have been impossible to reach.

Through the process of fracking, fissures within the earth are widened by injecting water, chemicals and sand into the ground at high pressure. One of the first places the process was used was in north Texas, although most now associate fracking with North Dakota, where fracking is used in the vast Bakken shale formation that stretches west to Montana and north into Canada.

China, New Zealand and Canada have also started using fracking to reach shale oil and gas deposits in their respective countries.

Issues with fracking

But fracking has its opponents who claim the process is harmful to the environment.

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the nonprofit international environmental group, opposes the expansion of fracking until more safeguards are put into place. According to the NRDC website, fracturing is suspected of causing groundwater damage in Arkansas, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia and Wyoming.

On its website, the NRDC accuses fracking of contaminating water supplies, polluting the air, destroying waterways and leaving behind “devastated landscape.”

Methods of making fracking safer for the environment

Some of the steps the NRDC and other environmental groups would like to see happen to make fracking safer include:

  • Placing sensitive lands, particularly those with watersheds, off limits to fracking.
  • Setting new clean air standards for fracking that require the release of methane be kept to 1 percent of total emissions.
  • Setting higher standards for the equipment used in fracking.
  • Requiring disclosure of all chemicals used in fracking as well as having strong rules regarding inspections of fracking sites.
  • Allowing local communities to keep companies from fracking near their homes by allowing them to set strong planning and zoning rules.

Lawsuit in Canada

Many fracking opponents have focused on one case in particular. A scientist in Canada has sued Alberta, government regulators and Encana, one of Canada’s largest shale drillers. She claims fracking has caused a fracturing in the aquifer that supplies the rural town of Rosebud, Alberta, with drinking water.

The case is now expected to come before the Canadian Supreme Court. Jessica Ernst, who filed the lawsuit, has a blog about the case.


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