Greenwashing is the practice of companies disingenuously spinning their products and policies as environmentally friendly. An example would be a company saying they reduced their wastes and were more energy efficient but this was only true because production was down, or for a hotel, room rentals was down. The reduction was not due to any concerted effort to reduce these environmental impacts. Another example is to rename an existing product and label it as ‘natural’ but there is not universal standard for what ‘natural’ means. For information on information on many eco-labels, go to: http://www.greenerchoices.org/eco-labels/eco-home.cfm?redirect=1 .
Some certifications like a few state green lodging programs and ISO 14001 come close to a full business certification but few do. When considering whether a business is green, consider the goals of the certifications claimed by the business. Because a company has several green certified buildings does not certify that the business manufacture ‘green’ products or have environmentally friendly processes. Also note that even if a business manufactures a certified green product, does not necessarily mean the company processes are green. Example of this is the manufacture of an Energy Star appliance. It may be energy efficient but was the manufacturing process environmentally friendly? Product certification does not even assure that the company even in compliance. However, typically a company interested in working in a certified green building or producing a certified green product is more inclined to address environmental issues in the entire business setting.
All certifications are not created equal either. The lowest level of certification include those that involve the company determining their own compliance. This includes product certifications created by the manufacturer for their own products and certifications that only require the company to pay membership and perhaps self audit goals. These ‘take my word for it’ certifications have no independent confirmation of a product or business maintaining any green standard. There are also numerous website certifications that offer an elaborate "self-auditing" process through online forms. These web-based programs call such services an "Audit" when it is self-assessment. The deception passes to the business which then displays a Green logo that was merely bought online. The highest level of certification includes those that require a review and certification by an independent third party. These typically are the more expensive certifications to cover the review process. This includes EPA’s Design for the Environment, certified sustainable wood programs and green building programs GreenBuilt, the Green Business League, and US Green Building Council (USGBC).
Greenpeace provides information and resources about greenwashing and lists their greenwashing criteria. There is really only one sure cure for greenwashing, and that is certification by a live audit by a program that is larger than a city or state committee that may lose funding in the future.