Spring Cleaning and Greenwashing


Trees are budding, flowers are blooming, and temperatures are (or should be) warming.  Spring has arrived.  It is time to open up the windows, breathe in fresh air, and feel the sunshine.

It is also time to take on your annual spring cleaning.

But before you break out the bleach and rubber gloves, you may want to reconsider the products you are using.  In a timely publication* by South Carolina Lawyer, the author calls attention to deceptive claims of environmentally-friendly products, including cleaning supplies.  Specifically, the article discusses the “greenwashing” phenomenon that was introduced more than 20 years ago and continues to gain momentum today.

The article explains that “greenwashing” refers to the use of vague or unsubstantiated claims that propagate a misleading environmentalist image.  Section 5 of the FTC Act** enables the FTC to regulate unfair or deceptive product claims, including greenwashing.  Thus, in 1992 the FTC published its first set of “Green Guides” to aid marketers in avoiding vague or unsubstantiated claims that tend to mislead “green” consumers.    

For instance, the FTC closely scrutinizes products with broad claims, such as “eco-friendly.”  The reason is because consumers may interpret such claims as indicating the product and its origins have no degree of negative environmental impact whatsoever.  As such, the Green Guides offer examples of how marketers may qualify or limit a claim to a specific aspect that can be substantiated.  For example, a label that simply states a product is “eco-friendly” may be deceptive, but a label that states a product is “eco-friendly: package made with recycled materials” is not deceptive, as it provides a clear and prominent limitation.   

As for more narrow or specific claims, the FTC also closely scrutinizes language that may create a false impression.  For example, a label that says a product has “30 percent less of chemical X” may be technically true if the percentage has decreased from three percent to two percent.  However, the FTC believes such a claim may mislead consumers and should be avoided.

So, for those of you interested in cleaning green this Spring, your best bet may or may not be with greenwashed products.  Below are links to various tips and DIY recipes for a healthier home and environment.   

Green Spring-Cleaning Tips:

Recipes for Green Cleaning Products:

Happy cleaning!


*Elizabeth B. Partlow, Greenwashing: Deceptive Claims of Environmentally Friendly Products, South Carolina Lawyer, March 2013, at 40.  Available at http://www.ipubviewer.com/publication/?i=149058.    

**15 U.S.C. § 45 (2006 & Supp. 2011).

~Shannon Reid~

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