December 1st, 2009

Let Me Teach You Why Greenwashing is Good

What is 'green'? -

I recently wrote a post titled, Why I hate the word ‘green’ and you should too, and one of those reasons was due to green washing. Well, I’ve been thinking and now I love green washing. Not only do I like it, but I think it’s a large opportunity.

Needless to say, this seems to be an unpopular perspective these days. I can’t count the number of bloggers that dislike it.

Take a look for yourself:

Combating the Scourge of Greenwashing

Greenwashing the Globe

One of my favorites, The Good Human has a greenwash of the week section: Greenwash Of The Week: Holy Cow Cleaning Product

No Right Turn: Climate change: The greenwash game is up

The Thing Green Line: Most Outrageous greenwash competition

Chevron follows the money, bats down climate bill

Vinyl and Asphalt are Green at Green Build: Tree Hugger

I agree, green washing seems bad on the surface. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that green washing is good, but I think it needs to be put in a little perspective. I want to convince you why green washing is part of the process, a necessary step if you will, and that you can be happy and angry about it at the same time.

Let me clearly show you why greenwashing is good for the movement, in an easy step by step prof.

  1. The goal is to force society, companies, and individuals to reduce their impact on the environment
  2. The problem with word ‘green’ and ‘sustainable’ is that it doesn’t have a definition
  3. Without a clean definition companies can claim to be ‘green’ with no proof
  4. This provides a HUGE opportunity to establish what ‘green’ means by establishing what it is NOT
  5. In our current system journalists, bloggers, NGOs, competing companies are incentivized to publish stories about companies lying, especially if this means furthering their own cause
  6. By a journalist, and other organizations showing why companies are not ‘green’ they will slowly create a definition of ‘green’ by the process of elimination
  7. Lastly, the fact that companies are ‘green washing’ means they are seeing an advantage to lying about it which means the size of the people who care about it is growing, a sign that the movement is growing

I’m not saying that I don’t get mad at green washing and that you shouldn’t either, I’m simply saying some perspective needs to be added. Greenwashing is part of the process. We should all realize that its going to happen, that it is our responsibility to seek it out and uncover it, and that this process will establish what ‘green’ is or is not.

Also, there appears to be a large opportunity to uncover greenwashing particularly in very large companies. Here is a great site that seeks to uncover green washing called The Greenwashing Index and another one called The Seven Sins of Greenwashing.

I would challenge anyone that gets really mad about green washing to see how it could be an opportunity for them to combat it.

On a scale of 1 (not angry) to 10(very angry) how angry does green washing make you? Why?

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Chris Williams

About Chris Williams

Chris Williams is the editor of Green Light Distrikt and Chief Marketing Officer at HeatSpring . He has experience in business development, prototyping and new venture research with a focus on geothermal heat pumps, solar thermal and solar photovoltaic technologies. Chris is an IGSHPA accredited geothermal installer and NABCEP certified solar installer. Chris is focused on solving customer facing issues in the creation and adoption of clean energy technologies and products. Chris has installed over 300kW of solar and tens of geothermal systems. He's invented the PV Pal , developed many trainings at HeatSpring, publishes the NABCEP Study Guide , the Hitchhikers Guide to Cleantech and has done due diligence research for Urgent VC . Feel free to connect with him @topherwiliams , on Linkedin , or through email about new ventures, collaborating, writing, research or whatever is on your mind.

  • http://www.thesnowboardscene.com Jesse Tolz

    I find it interesting that you have realized there is some positive drive behind the undistinguished term “green.” I have also seen it as a fashionable cool with which people like to pride themselves among their networks, and much like you stated in this post, let’s harness people wanting to represent their green-ness in the most optimal manner.

  • http://www.thegreenlightdistrikt.com Christopher Williams

    Jesse, I agree. The issue is whether a backlash will be strong enough to overcome the amount of grenwashing happening. I recently read that a survey of 2,000 found that 95% were greenwashing. This does display the magnitude of the problem but I would argued the survey didn’t have much mean because I’m assuming that didn’t have a standard definition of what green is. This is the central problem that most hippies/liberals, whatever you want to call them have failed to address. They describe when it’s NOT green but not what IS.

  • http://twitter.com/AaronDesatnik Aaron Desatnik

    Chris, I like the fact that you’re challenging common conceptions in the green/sustainability space. I’m not saying I agree or disagree, but think a core piece of this is simply data-driven. How do we define green? How can we truthfully demonstrate that products or services meet this definition? It’s clear that without a definition, and especially one that has continuously increasing levels of green-ness, that COP16 and other goals will not be reached.

    For me it’s as much about individual choice as it is about the larger climate and environmental problems. I have no problem with good advertising (e.g. location based marketing) because it’s going to help me find a solution to one of my needs (sometimes with a coupon to boot!). I do, however, have a problem with greenwashing if only because it says it fills my needs but actually doesn’t. The best marketers and business people know that good business practice is as much about offering a useful product or service as much as telling why that product or service meets my needs. Thus greenwashing is (beyond the climate and environmental problems) just bad business.

  • http://www.thegreenlightdistrikt.com Chris Williams

    Aaron,

    I agree with your point and most like the definition aspect as thats what it all comes down to. The issues seems to be that these problems are so systemic with our whole economy that if you get into it more then 3 or 4 layers, nothing rarely ever seems green. You know what I mean?