7 Sins of Sustainable Holiday Shopping

Giving Green Without Greenwashing

I'm making my holiday gift list, and I'm checking it twice. Especially since, this year, it is so much easier to find eco-friendly goodies out there to give.

At the same time, I'm trying to wade through the hype to assess whether a potential gift is as eco-friendly as it's marketed to be.

For example, there are now plenty of organic bath and beauty products that would be perfect for a friend. But often their ingredients sound less than all-natural to me.

I found some gorgeous gift wrap that comes from "sustainable forestry practices." Should I keep shopping for gift wrap made from recycled paper? Should I use brown paper bags?

I'm not the only one who's confused by the eco-chatter. A friend mentioned that when he was wandering near some plasma TVs at an electronics store, a salesman told him that it'd be green to get a pre-owned, refurbished plasma screen.

The truth is, my guard has been up since I read an article in The New York Times alerting consumers that green marketing is one of the season's biggest retail trends, and that the claims often fall short.

A report by TerraChoice Environmental Marketing offers guidelines for shoppers, asking us to be mindful of the Six Sins of Greenwashing. Here are the six marketing ploys to keep in mind:

1. The Sin of the Hidden Trade-off (A refurbished plasma TV might reduce the need for materials at first, but plasma screens are energy hogs).

2. The Sin of the No Proof (Can a third party verify claims such as "organic" or "all-natural?)

3. The Sin of Vagueness (Beware of products claiming to be "chemical-free" or "all-natural").

4. The Sin of Irrelavance (Claims that have no relationship to the product or can be made with any other product in the same category—such as CFC-free shaving gel).

5. The Sin of Fibbing (a falsehood that can't be backed up at all, such as "certified organic" for products where no such certification exists).

6. The Sin of the Lesser of Two Evils (an attempt put a green twist on a product that's inherently harmful to the environment—e.g., organic cigarettes).

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