Archive for August, 2010

Greenwashing Sins, Part I: Hidden Trade-Offs

Demand for environmentally-desirable goods and services is at an all-time high. In keeping with this, more and more businesses and products are going green. Between 2006 and 2008, the total volume of green-themed advertising nearly tripled, and between 2007 and 2008, the amount of products on store shelves claiming to be green nearly doubled.  That’s just the tip of the iceberg. When statistics are compiled from 2008 forward, it’s reasonable to expect to see green marketing to have increased by a whole order of magnitude.

In general, this trend is a good thing. It reflects increased awareness and motivation on the part of consumers to make responsible choices, and on the part of businesses to serve consumers’ demand and to do the right thing. However, this green revolution has a darker side. Some goods and services are green in name only. This phenomenon is called greenwashing.

Today we continue our multi-part series on this topic by discussing the first “sin” of greenwashing, as dubbed by TerraChoice in its ground-breaking report on the subject.

Sin #1 : The Hidden Trade-Off

This sin is all about misdirection: emphasize the good and hide the bad. Consumers are exposed to a green marketing claim that focuses on a very carefully set of positive attributes, while remaining silent on the downsides that, if known, would make the eco-friendliness of the product questionable. Imagine a 100% recycled cardboard. Sounds great, doesn’t it? But suppose you learned that it is manufactured by a process that produces an excessive amount of greenhouse gases? Not so great anymore, is it? An eco-friendly bamboo fabric is appealing, but it loses its luster if its made with toxic chemicals that cause a disposal problem. According to the TerraChoice study, 57% of green marketing claims commit this sin.

Government is taking an increasingly active role in policing green marketing claims. But consumers can also help protect themselves by thinking critically as they review green labeling and paying attention as much to the label’s silence on an issue as to the features it touts. Also, consumers should rely on reputable certification marks to help guide them in avoiding hidden trade-offs.


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What’s Your Footprint?

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) offers a handy web-based calculator that allows users to measure their impact on their environment. The results will most likely surprise you and open your eyes. Check it out here.

WWF holds a special place in trademark history, as well. In a 2002 UK case , the Fund won a settlement which required the former World Wrestling Federation(WWF) to change its name to World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE).

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Extreme Green Inventions

MSNBC has an interesting profile on some way-outside-the-box green inventions. Check it out.

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Certification Marks 101

A certification mark is any word, name, symbol, device, or any combination, used, or intended to be used, in commerce with the owner’s permission by someone other than its owner, to certify regional or other geographic origin, material, mode of manufacture, quality, accuracy, or other characteristics of someone’s goods or services, or that the work or labor on the goods or services was performed by members of a union or other organization. Think the Good Housekeeping seal.

Here are some examples of “green” certification marks:

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But beware – It’s a common marketing tactic to affix trademarks to products that have the “look and feel” of a certification mark, but in fact are just the seller’s own mark with self-awarded accolades. Also, even with true certification marks, these marks are only as good as the reputation they have for the objectivity and rigor with which the certifying party applies its standards.

The legislative authority for certification marks in the U.S. comes from U.S. Code section 15 U.S.C. §1054.

Collective marks and certification marks registrable

Subject to the provisions relating to the registration of trademarks, so far as they are applicable, collective and certification marks, including indications of regional origin, shall be registrable under this Act, in the same manner and with the same effect as are trademarks, by persons, and nations, States, municipalities, and the like, exercising legitimate control over the use of the marks sought to be registered, even though not possessing an industrial or commercial establishment, and when registered they shall be entitled to the protection provided herein in the case of trademarks, except in the case of certification marks when used so as to represent falsely that the owner or a user thereof makes or sells the goods or performs the services on or in connection with which such mark is used. Applications and procedure under this section shall conform as nearly as practicable to those prescribed for the registration of trademarks.

Applications for new green certifications are on the rise at the Trademark Office. To follow the trends in the volume of green certification, tune in to our weekly round-up of green marks.

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Patent Office Expands Green Technology Pilot Program to More Inventions

The USPTO recently announced that it is revising its Green Technology Pilot Program to allow more categories of technology to be eligible for expedited processing under the program. Eligibility for the pilot program, which was designed to promote the development of green technologies, had previously been limited to applications within a select number of U.S. classifications. The USPTO has removed that requirement. By allowing more inventions related to green technologies to be accorded special status and receive expedited examination, it is hoped that the Green Technology Pilot Program will accelerate the development and deployment of green technology, create green jobs and promote U.S. competitiveness in this vital sector.

“There has been a tremendous amount of interest in the Green Technology Pilot Program, and we would like to enable applicants whose inventions did not fall within the initial classifications eligible for the program to be eligible,” said Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO David Kappos. “By expanding the eligibility criteria for this program, will further accelerate the development of critical green technologies while creating new jobs.”

Under the Green Technology Pilot Program, pending patent applications in green technologies are eligible to be accorded special status and given expedited examination. Patent applications are normally taken up for examination in the order that they are filed. Under the pilot program, for the first 3,000 applications related to green technologies in which a grantable petition is filed, the agency will examine the applications on an expedited basis.

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