While most of us are willing to pay extra to help the environment, we are still often not sure how much of the labeling we should believe, wondering if any of those are really green or if it's all a marketing strategy.
With the rising interest in the environment, more companies are trying to cash in by joining the bandwagon, but only pretending to be “green,” a practice that environmentalists and some consumers call as greenwashing.
Even the new hotel trend of asking guests to reuse towels to conserve water, are suspect of being just an effort to skimp on laundry costs.
According to advertising firm Ogilvy & Mather, which has been pushing for accurate environmental marketing, greenwashing is reaching "epidemic proportions."
"If we allow companies to get away with exaggeration, consumer skepticism will become cynicism and they'll stop choosing green products at all," said Scott McDougall, chief executive of eco-marketing company TerraChoice.
"Most companies are engaged in incremental tinkering — symbolic actions without any real substance," said Kumi Naidoo, executive director of Greenpeace International.
But what exactly makes a product green and what exactly constitutes greenwashing?
No clear answer so far. The Federal Trade Commission is updating a 20 years old voluntary guideline for eco-advertising.
A recent survey shows most consumers want a similar way that beef is labeled by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a single seal identifying a green product.
As of now, there are already a lot of companies that issue green certification, endorsements and labels for a fee.
"If an advertiser wants 30 seconds of your time, they might as well improve the quality of your life, and that's the furthest thing from greenwashing," said EcoMedia President Paul Polizzotto. "What I usually see in media is a lot of talk about greening and not a lot of action."
According to a report from the eco-marketing company Shelton Group, nearly 40% of consumers rely on labels, deciding between supposedly green products from those that are not.
"Many don't trust manufacturer motives, but they end up making a decision at the shelf based on the packaging, usually just buying the brands they've always bought," said Suzanne Shelton, chief executive of the group.
This can be a tricky call for consumers, who are regularly flooded by a wide display of vaguely defined green catchphrases such as "natural," "clean" and "organic."