Read labels carefully when shoppingBy Lori Bongiorno
How do you know if an ad is telling the truth? It's not always easy, but there are certain clues you can look for to determine if the claims an ad is making are legit or if a marketer is purposely trying to mislead you into thinking a product is healthier, safer, or greener than it truly is.
Here are some ways to determine if advertising claims are fact or fiction...
Words matter. Look for specific rather than general claims. The following words are essentially meaningless because they are too vague and/or there aren't any standard definitions for them:
- Fragrance-free or unscented
- Free range
- Eco-friendly, environmentally preferable, or eco-safe
Meaningless claims are ubiquitous in the marketplace. For instance, about 33 percent of food and beverage products launched last year made some kind of "natural" claim. When shopping, it's safer to look for specific attributes, but there are no guarantees because in many cases there's no one verifying the manufacturers claims.
Some examples of specific claims:
- Made from post-consumer recycled paper
- No additives
- No animal byproducts
- No parabens
Visit Consumer Reports' Eco-labels center to find out which labels and terms you can trust.
Look for proof. Choose products with claims that can be verified or that have been certified by a third party. These products have been vetted by an independent agency to ensure that they meet certain standards. Some credible logos to look for include USDA Organic, Energy Star, Forest Stewardship Council certified, Rainforest Alliance certified, and Green Seal.
The U.S. Federal Trade Commission charged K-Mart and other companies with making deceptive and unsubstantiated biodegradable claims on some paper products in 2009. The FTC is expected to update its outdated regulations for green advertising claims as well. Hopefully consumers won't have to read between the lines quite as much if the government cracks down on misleading claims.
Rely on experts. These websites do the homework for you: GoodGuide rates food, toys, personal care items, and household products based on environmental, social, and health attributes. Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep Cosmetics Database can help you find the safest and healthiest cosmetics and personal care products.
Check out TerraChoice's list of the Seven Sins of Greenwashing for additional tips on sniffing out misleading advertising.
Want to see some of the most egregiously misleading ads? View a full sampling, post your own examples, and vote for the worst offenders at the Greenwashing Index.
Environmental journalist Lori Bongiorno shares green-living tips and product reviews with Yahoo! Green's users. Send Lori a question or suggestion for potential use in a future column. Her book, Green Greener Greenest: A Practical Guide to Making Eco-smart Choices a Part of Your Life is available on Yahoo! Shopping and Amazon.com.
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