I don’t know about you, but I’m getting pretty sick of seeing company after company jump on the green bandwagon touting “eco-friendly” products without substantiating their claims or identifying the performance criteria upon which those claims are based. I think it will backfire eventually. But right now, it’s too easy and maybe too tempting for these companies to take a shortcut to green markets. To them the path to fully committing product, process, and corporation to sustainability appears too costly and complicated.

Maybe it’s too early to expect much more, since the industry is really just waking up to new opportunities and even experts still have a hard time pinpointing the definition of green products. There are labels and certifications available now, but most are limited to single performance attributes, and the development of broader and deeper multiple-attribute evaluations remains the Holy Grail of the numerous product rating systems under development. That said, even in development, these efforts can help you understand the priorities and trade-offs you should try to balance in your product selections. Resources like the Pharos Project, the Green Standard, the GreenSpec Directory, and Rate It Green are good starting points. And industry efforts to educate manufacturers, such as the Green Building Alliance’s Green Building Products Initiative, could really help reduce greenwashing.

As Aurora Sharrard from the Green Building Alliance advises in her upcoming EcoHome article “Keeping Them Honest,” ask yourself the following questions when evaluating green product claims:

  • Is this claim obviously false? 

  • Is it unrelated or irrelevant? 

  • Is it too generic to make sense? 

  • Does it only address one feature of the product when there are other important ones that are ignored? 

  • Can I verify it online or with information on the product itself?

Sharrard goes on to warn against believing advertising claims that any product will “earn” you LEED points or credits within the ANSI National Green Building Standard because those programs do not certify specific products. These are real tip-offs to greenwashed claims.

We’re addressing this issue at EcoHome, by establishing clear editorial guidelines based on certifications and performance criteria for products that we cover in print and online. We’ve enlisted green building experts in every category to help us evaluate products and set performance-based thresholds, category-by-category, to provide you with the credible information you need to make informed decisions.

And of course I always want to hear from you--especially about greenwashing--so join our Greenwash Patrol and let me know what you’re seeing out there. Email me at rschwolsky@hanleywood.com.

For more on this topic, check out “What You Need to Know About Greenwashing.”

Rick Schwolsky is Editor in Chief of EcoHome.