What is ‘green’?

August 5th, 2010

Green Marketing or Green Washing? (Part Deux – Enforcement!)


We left off last month at Enforcement in part 1 of ‘Green Marketing or Green Washing?’.  The best part!  So if the green guides when applied can be pretty stringent and since we can probably agree that most companies, whether or not unwittingly, violate the standards, then why don’t we have FTC actions coming out our ears?!

The Green Guides were implemented in 1992, but only 45 complaints have been brought under the guides since their inception.  During the Bush Administration, not a single environmental marketing complaint was brought.  Since Obama took office, seven complaints as of February 2010 had been brought and FTC Director, David Vladeck has said that tougher enforcement and guidelines are a major part of the Commission’s agenda. + Continue Reading

July 27th, 2010

Green Marketing or Green Washing?


So last month I spouted off about labels on food and the enforcement behind them.  The topic is a confusing once since there is very little regulation, which leads to consumer confusion.  There are however, guidelines with the FTC that prevent green washing in marketing under the banner of Truth in Advertising. Unfortunately most businesses have very little knowledge of these guidelines, due to their lack of enforcement, and therefore even the most sustainably-minded companies are often guilty of green washing.  But the Obama administration has stated that enforcement of these guidelines is a priority going forward, so consumers are about to get some clarity!

To check out the green guides for yourself you can read them at the FTC website.  Or you can keep reading for a snarky summary. :) + Continue Reading

December 1st, 2009

Let Me Teach You Why Greenwashing is Good


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?

November 5th, 2009

Why I hate the word ‘green’ and you should too


If you haven’t noticed, the word ‘green’ is getting thrown around a lot these days. I go to a lot of conferences, meetings, and talking with a lot my peers about ‘green’ things and I have started to notice that although the word is around me all the time, I hardly ever use it, and if it happens to slip out I get the nasty sensation like I do when I accidentally swear in front of my girlfriend’s parents.

When people around me use it, and they’re not quoting someone else, I notice it makes me gringe a little bit and I become a little suspicious of whatever they say next. Don’t get me wrong, I like to breath clean air, drink clean water, I don’t want to get cancer and we have many other problems that need to be fixed. However, I don’t think the word ‘green’ is helping us get there.

When someone uses the word ‘green’ in reference to a product, service, action, or company I always ask these two questions, if the situation is correct and it doesn’t sound too argumentative.

1) What do you mean by the word green?

I’m always curious to see how they define it. I tend to find that most people don’t have a definition. This is especially important for businesses that are trying to be ‘green’ but never define what they mean by it.

2) Why is [insert whatever they were talking about] green?

This question usually looses people. Without a clear definition it is difficult to describe why something is or is not ‘green’.

That brings me to Reason #1: There is no USEFUL definition for the word ‘green’ in the context of environmentalism.

Anything can be ‘green’ depending on how you spin it. For example, I could make two equally compelling arguments why using glass bottles is ‘green’ and is it not.

The definition of the word ‘green’ is like the definition of the word efficient, it always depends on the parameters and the goals.

Also, ‘green’ applies to everything. Duh! Everything we do relates to the environment is some way but the current definition of the ‘green’ doesn’t address this.

What can do we do about this?

Honestly, I don’t really know but here are a couple thoughts. On a personal level, stop using the word.

On a macro level, it should be treated just like the word efficiency. It’s different for each industry, for different products or services and there are standards that determine what is or is not ‘green’ in each segment.

There are some companies that are trying to do this but they’re all in their infancy: RateItGreen, IzzitGrren, Wal-Mart’s Sustainability Index, The Global Reporting Initiaitve.

With the exception of Wal-Mart none of these companies make a stand and actually take a shot at defining it, they just leave it up to their users.

Reason #2: Green Washing

The lack of a definition leads to green washing by companies.

Just in case you don’t know, green washing is a company or organization that is claiming to use ‘green’ practises (whatever that is) with their products or services in order to sell more products when no real effort is being made.

Green washing is rampant. Here’s a blurb straight from Wikipedia….

In December 2007, environmental marketing firm TerraChoice gained national press coverage for releasing a study called “The Six Sins of Greenwashing” which found that more than 99% of 1,018 common consumer products randomly surveyed for the study were guilty of greenwashing. A total of 1,753 environmental claims made, with some products having more than one, and out of the 1,018 studied only one was found not guilty of making a false or misleading green marketing claim. According to the study, the six sins of greenwashing are:

  • Sin of the Hidden Trade-Off: e.g. “Energy-efficient” electronics that contain hazardous materials. 998 products and 57% of all environmental claims committed this Sin.
  • Sin of No Proof: e.g. Shampoos claiming to be “certified organic,” but with no verifiable certification. 454 products and 26% of environmental claims committed this Sin.
  • Sin of Vagueness: e.g. Products claiming to be 100% natural when many naturally-occurring substances are hazardous, like arsenic and formaldehyde (see appeal to nature). Seen in 196 products or 11% of environmental claims.
  • Sin of Irrelevance: e.g. Products claiming to be CFC-free, even though CFCs were banned 20 years ago. This Sin was seen in 78 products and 4% of environmental claims.
  • Sin of Fibbing: e.g. Products falsely claiming to be certified by an internationally recognized environmental standard like EcoLogo, Energy Star or Green Seal. Found in 10 products or less than 1% of environmental claims.
  • Sin of Lesser of Two Evils: e.g. Organic cigarettes or “environmentally friendly” pesticides, This occurred in 17 products or 1% of environmental claims.

In April 2009, TerraChoice published a second report on the subject. This report noted the emergence of a seventh Sin – the ‘Sin of Worshiping False Labels’.[14]

  • The Sin of Worshiping False Labels is committed by a product that, through either words or images, gives the impression of third-party endorsement where no such endorsement actually exists; fake labels, in other words.

There is so much green washing that there is an index that is trying to stop the issues. It’s called The Green Washing Index.

Many, including myself, will argue that green washing can be a good thing, but it still really pisses me off.

Reason #3: It doesn’t spur useful action

Due to the broad use, the lack of a clean definition, specifics, and lying companies, it makes it difficult for consumers and organizations to take meaningful action. In addition, the continued use of the word ‘green’ without figuring out exactly what it means will make action even harder.

Penn and Teller have a great skit on why some aspects of the ‘green’ movement are ‘bullshit’ as they like to say. This skit really gets to the core of the issue regarding the definition of the word and how the lack of definition spurs actions that are not useful and pretty stupid.

If you have time, watch the whole thing, it’s pretty good. The clip that starts at 13:25 highlights how environmentalists are taking advantage of a lack of definition of ‘green’ with carbon credits.

Reason #4: The word polarizes people, and it shouldn’t.

The last reason I hate the word ‘green’ is that the word divides people politically. No one wants dirty air, water, cancer or a dirty environment. I understand that the debate is more centered around the best way to eliminate these things and not if they are bad themselves.

It needs to be remembered that environmentalism is a moral issue, like child labor, slavery, or having a 40 hour work week. So, when someone asks me if I mind paying a carbon tax I respond ‘hell no’ just like I don’t mind paying taxes for roads, education, and the ‘tax’ that is associated with an economy not based on slavery.

It can be easily argued that any of these issues (child labor, slavery) limits the productivity of an economy. However, we’ve made a moral choice to eliminate child labor and salvery and I would argue the economy is better because of it.

Helping the environment is no different. This is a moral issue, not an economic issue, but it will have beneficial economic consequences. It seems like it will hurt the economy but in the short run it will only lead to innovation and growth.

My question to you

I’m always interested to hear others’ opinion on this word.

Do you think green is a useful word? Why?

Do you use the word green? Why?