Who among us hasn’t shelled out a few more cents for environmentally friendly counter cleaner or products containing “natural” ingredients? With increased awareness of environmental responsibility, consumers are increasingly trying to make the right choices with their purchases. Shoppers are reading labels, trusting that these will guide them in the right direction. But it's not so simple as that.

According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, companies like SC Johnson and others are being sued for misleading customers. The companies are accused of adding words like “Greenlist” or “biodegradable” to their labels. According to the WSJ, the companies are accused of “adding self-designed labels that imply their products have won some third-party seal of approval.”

The story cites the example of rayon fabric, which is typically processed with a “chemical that releases hazardous air pollutants,” being advertised as made of bamboo. In reality, the bamboo is substituted for wood fiber and “any antimicrobial qualities of the plant don’t survive the manufacturing process.”

The lawsuits follow a wave of increased consumer awareness. The WSJ mentions that 17 percent of Americans are willing to pay more money for a product that is environmentally friendly, and it seems companies are willing to go to great lengths to make these consumers think their products fit the bill.

Environmental groups are pushing the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to regulate and define language that appears on labels and to have tighter policing of Green Guides, which are released to help consumers make sound choices. Meanwhile, class-action lawsuits nationwide seek refunds of purchase prices to consumers who have been led astray. The article says the companies with the “green” labels, like SC Johnson, have indeed cut their VOC use and made other sustainable strides.

However, the WSJ quotes business economics professor Thomas P. Lyon of University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business as saying companies will face increased pressure to “hone their green messages and make them more factual and credible.”

Consumers fight back against greenwashing
Lawsuits might force companies to reconsider product labels.