|With the recent burst in concern over green technology, architecture, lifestyles, and energies, it isn't surprising that some companies are using misleading information to promote their own business. The term 'greenwashing' refers to the manner in which many companies are now dishonestly advertising themselves as sustainably conscious industries, hoping to redefine their image in the public light to not only appear as though they are concerned with the environment, but to also boost revenue and reputation through word of mouth.|
Greenwashing was first used in 1986 by environmentalist Jay Westerveld, in his report on hotels placing cards in each room that urged occupants to reuse towels to lessen their impact on the environment by reducing water usage within the hotel's utilities. Despite these convenient cards placed in every room, there was no further evidence to suggest the hotels which used this practice put any extra effort into sustainable practices.
So how can an individual spot greenwashing, or how can they discern the difference between legitimate, sustainable-supportive companies from low-down, crooked ones?
A few measures are in place already in terms of legitimacy and qualifications. A company which is honestly concerned with their contributions to their environment does more than offer brightly colored brochures in their lobbies. Some companies can prove their new, sustainable directions in the very construction of the building itself. As explained before, the LEED system offers consistent, third-party evaluation of a building's performance and encompasses more than just construction, but also creativity and ideology implemented within the workspace. Build It Green, another third-party organization, offers the same services as LEED, but is primarily concerned with residential housing.
It is much easier, however, to spot illegitimacy than it is to spot it's opposite. Many companies promote their own insignias of green trust, typically titled "Rainforest Alliance" or "Sustainable Alternatives". These organizations, be they legitimate or not, do not necessarily cover the entire vertical structure of a company's production along with it's purchases and sales. Consider a standard coffee company. Though it could be absolutely true that they are a participant in fair-trade, organic purchases, this still only covers one aspect of their company—the actual beans themselves. Depending on where the company purchases its dairy, sugar, and whether or not an intermediate company is used for the actual transportation labor of the beans themselves, this company could indeed be participating in greenwashing.
A good rule to abide by is, if the company shows no other signs of environmental contributions, but instead relies on cheap literature offered on their countertop, they are probably taking advantage of the current boom in interest in sustainable practices. As recently as 2009, a McDonalds in Europe changed the colors of their individual franchise from red and yellow to green and yellow. In this case, the change was so ridiculously superficial that a metaphor involving the words "as thin as their new coat of paint" would simply be absurd, and a waste of time to the readers, as well as an insult to the english language.
So the next time you're in your local store, watch out for the tricks and scams offered by today's industrial world. To be insured, make changes at home that you know will make a difference.