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, 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. 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, It’s definitely worth your time! Also, Green Peace has launched a website dealing with green washing as well. 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.




Do you ever notice that there are certain spaces that just feel right as soon as you enter them, but you can’t quite put your finger on it?  The secret is that these spaces have a balanced composition of elements.  Balance promotes a sense of stability. A lack of balance creates tension.  You may not know what it is about any particular element or feature that results in this sense of stability, but most of the time, the proper arrangement of many elements working in concert create a balance of positive and negative space. As a wise man once said, “the secret to a collage is knowing when you’re through.”

Most design professionals study composition theory and the psychological perception of elements that comprise the supporting features of a main subject. Of particular note is the study of how to piece elements together to achieve a sense of balance.  Rudolf Arnheim, a German-born author and perceptual psychologist theorized that vision and perception are an actively creative understanding, such that we subconsciously attempt to organize our perception of elements into recognizable structures and forms in order to understand them.

The corollary is that a space without balance is not easily understood, so our minds try to apply order to what it sees.  The human brain is amazing at making this work, but if a certain threshold of balance is not met, this subconscious "organization" cannot be accomplished. When this happens, confusion is created and tension is the end result.

Here are some practical tips to achieving balance in your space with common elements that end up in most rooms:

1.     Create a strong focal point and make it the subject of your space. This will anchor the room. Sometimes it’s a sofa, sometimes it’s a fireplace. Just remember that other elements should complement it.

2.     Get your furniture spayed or neutered! Resist the urge to over-populate your space. If you are furnishing a space and there seems to be some spare room, remember that’s where you, your friends, your family, and your pets go. Give your space some room to live in it. 

3.     Layer your lighting. When everything is lit with the same tone, temperature, and luminosity, your space will lack depth. Play with your dimmers, under-light your cabinets and remember that one large fixture will not create a well-lit space. (But do keep in mind the dramatic effect of a large fixture.)

4.     Outlet covers and switch plates should be made from the same material and color.  They should be installed at the same height and they should be level. 

5.     Your doors and windows should be the same height and aligned at the top edge, so, any large art pieces should be guided by this top line.

6.     Artwork should align with a strong line in the room.  Try to hang artwork so that the top of each piece aligns with a strong line, or you can align the artwork with window and door frames in the room. If none of these can be accomplished, at least try to keep #7 below, in mind.

7.     When placing artwork, be aware of the fact that the eyes’ automatic focal point is almost always ¾ up from the bottom of the piece.

8.     Accent colors should be used throughout the room in small doses. These pieces don’t need to be the same size or shape, but should give a sense of congruence to the space.

9.     Balance the main feature or an overpowering element with other elements in the room so that it does not dominate the composition. The goal is to see the whole composition, even if the main subject is a pink elephant.

10. Follow Jan Tschichold’s rule that “white space is to be regarded as an active element, not a passive background.” Tschichold was a German typographer, book designer and writer, who had a great understanding for dividing spaces into pleasing proportions.  Don’t neglect your background.

Design professionals can provide more insight and a great contribution in designing your space.  Beyond having good taste, most are trained in spatial elements and relationships.  A large part of the profession is applying design principles to spaces of any shape or size to achieve that sense of balance. Try these tips at home and get a sense of how you can do this too.