07/24/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

If 98% of "Green" Products Greenwash - Which are the 2% that Don't?

Last night, I was intrigued to read news about a study that had found that 98% of "green" products on the shelves of American supermarkets made false claims. Greenwashing has all but reached its climax I thought. But then I quickly wondered, which are the 2% of "green" products that passed the test? Who are the leaders of today that should be put on a pedestal and rewarded with my purchasing dollars?

It turns out that the company that conducted the study, TerraChoice, has not cared to share this information with us. I dug through the "2009 Greenwashing Report" available on their website. While it provides us with a lot of interesting information, the methodology the company used in its study is a little lacking as written. I'd like to know more.

For instance, they drew their U.S. sample from 12 stores in Philadelphia. They say that these were toy stores, supermarkets, pharmacies, big box stores, and so on. As a conservation social scientist, I should say that while I think their study has yielded fascinating findings, we should not generalize from it. All too often we want to do this, and I think in this case the data obtained from the sample has incredible value but also is dangerous.

You know, I used to hate the phrase: "No good deed goes unpunished." But more recently it makes sense to me. Unfortunately now I must punish those who have done something with good intentions.

To TerraChoice:

First, my apologies, because you have done a great thing, but now I must scold you.
I appreciate your efforts to expose greenwashing and also create a typology to understand how it occurs with your "Seven Sins of Greenwashing." It's important that we as consumers recognize greenwashing and expose those who are doing it. But it's equally important that we reward those companies selling products that are legitimately environmentally-friendly and claim to be so.

Please publish a list of the products you found in your study that accurately portrayed their environmental credentials and value.

Secondly, I appreciate your effort to promote a labeling system (EcoLogo) to create a means by which consumers can have greater trust in the "green" purchases they make. This will not happen overnight and we need someone to bring voice to the cause. Keep up the good work on this effort.

To get back to my gripe, by releasing such a strong statistic as you have (98% of "green" products greenwash -- in Philadelphia to be more accurate) you have only given immeasurable fuel to those who think environmental initiatives are all pushed by liars and idiots (click here to find out what I mean). Most of us who consider ourselves conservationists and environmentalists are not liars and idiots. There are companies that sell products and services in stores and online that do not greenwash.

Why not help us identify them? There are some terrific examples out there of groups like Carrotmob that organize reverse boycotts to reward businesses who sell products and services that have robust environmental credibility either in how they conduct business or in what they sell. Perhaps you could partner with them in the future.

Please don't leave those of us who would like to buy products and goods that are truly friendly to the environment out in the cold. Despite your fantastic efforts to expose greenwashing, you have left us without the means to make purchases we know are effective and feel good about.

Thank you.