Green Products: Environmental Marketing as Advertised?

Green products are environmentally friendly and starting to be marketed by major corporations, do environmental marketing companies live up to their advertising?

| February/March 1996

Are green products worth the hype? Find out more about the truth in environmental marketing. 

Green Products: Environmental Marketing as Advertised?

The ads on this page were pulled, but this legal action did not discourage companies, such as the makers of Sierra Anti-Freeze, from advertising toxic chemicals as "not harmful."

Could there be any image more chock full of meaning than that of a human hand scooped full of rich black soil? Full of potential and life itself, is there anything so good, so wholesome, so natural? This image appeared in a controversial Procter & Gamble ad for disposable diapers accompanied by this statement: "Ninety days ago this was a disposable diaper."

"Now that's amazing composting," you think to yourself. Hard to believe. But the fine print answers your skepticism: "It's not magic or wishful thinking. It's a remarkable technology called accelerated composting, where ordinary household garbage is turned into soil enhancer."

The environment is among the top five factors consumers think about when making a purchase, and from 10 to 15 percent of all new products are making some sort of environmental claim in their labeling and advertising. This may sound encouraging if you believe it shows manufacturers are beginning to take the environment into consideration when they make their products. But it turns out that only some of these claims are reasonable. In the words of environmental lobbyist Lance King, "More and more companies are realizing that environmental issues are strategic, but in response manufacturers have said not, `How can we change our product,' but "What can we say about our product."

Companies have not all put their money where their mouth is. Some offenders the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has penalized for making deceptive environmental marketing claims: The Orkin Exterminating Company, Inc., referred to its lawn pesticides as "practically nontoxic," Amoco said that you can recycle its polystyrene products and packaging materials, Hefty claimed its plastic bags would biodegrade in landfills, and most recently, Safe Brands Corporation, Warren Distribution, Inc., and ARCO Chemical Co. claimed their product, Sierra Anti-Freeze, was "essentially nontoxic," "environmentally safer," and "biodegradable." In November 1995, the companies agreed, under pressure from the FTC, to drop the claims and replace them with a warning that Sierra Anti-Freeze may be harmful if swallowed.

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