Green, or Greenwash?

According to the masses, via Wikipedia, “Greenwashing is a form of spin in which green PR or green marketing is deceptively used to promote the perception that an organization's aims and policies are environmentally friendly. Whether it is to increase profits or gain political support, greenwashing may be used to manipulate popular opinion to support otherwise questionable aims.”

The New York Times published an article about this on October 17th 2015, exposing many companies’ failed attempts at greenwashing their products. From innocuous attempts like Lulu Lemon Athletica claiming their seaweed fabric apparel had health benefits, to diabolical attempts like Volkswagen rigging their diesel engine cars to trick emissions testing. Needless to say, there are many levels and many types of greenwashing, so we decided to take a closer look.

In our industry, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design or “LEED” Certification is the gold standard for green building. From 1994 to 2006, the LEED certification program went from one categorical classification to a comprehensive system of interrelated standards. While this program has had a robust impact on building large projects, it doesn’t always make an impact on small to medium size projects. Many of our clients would love to build a LEED certified restaurant, home or office but don’t have the opportunity with constraints on time and budget. This leaves much of the selection of environmentally green products and finishes to our discretion. Though we don’t often get to build LEED certified spaces, we try to understand what’s really “green” and select accordingly. Many times however, we’re in the same position as any other consumer, left trying to figure out whether a product or finish is actually green, or just greenwashed.  

We discovered a very helpful website about green washing recently for day-to-day situations, www.sinsofgreenwashing.org that has a lot of valuable information on this subject. It is also very well put together with fun, colorful characters, games and fact cards.

Sinsofgreenwashing.org describes green washing in a series of "sins" that are accurate and something we deal with every week as we specify products for our projects. These "sins" are as follows: 

1. Sin of the hidden trade off  

2. Sin of no proof 

3. Sin of vagueness 

4. Sin of worshiping false labels 

5. Sin of irrelevance 

6. Sin of lesser of two evils 

7. Sin of fibbing 

To see an explanation of each of these "sins," go to their website,  

www.sinsofgreenwashing.org It’s definitely worth your time! Also, Green Peace has launched a website dealing with green washing as well. http://stopgreenwash.org/. They give the following advice should you come across green washing:   

Corporations must play a central role in helping solve the world's environmental challenges. They must do this by making real changes to their policies and practices.  At the same time, consumers, policy makers and journalists must be able to look beneath the green veneer and hold corporations accountable for the impacts their core business decisions and investments are having on our planet. The Greenpeace Greenwash Criteria can help consumers and journalists distinguish between green and greenwash. Consumers can take action when they witness greenwash by contacting corporations and policymakers to voice concerns, or by drawing attention to misleading claims via blogs, websites, and other outreach. They can also contact the Federal Trade Commission or the Better Business Bureau to register complaints. 

Legally, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has the responsibility and authority to take action against misleading ads and claims. Consumers can register complaints online, or boycott manufacturers known to greenwash. Most importantly, remember to take action yourself by being more green in your everyday activities. Your ability to contribute to a greener environment by avoiding wasting water, electricity, gas, and food, and by recycling and reusing has a huge impact, and at a critical mass, the network effects will make everyone’s world a lot greener.