June 30 2008

Greenwashing: Thoughts and How It Is Changing the Industry

When we go green, we go all the way.

Greenwashing is everywhere these days. It is hard to pick up a magazine without being introduced a myriad of products, services and opinions that are tainted green in one way or another. Let's be honest, it is good to be associated with the latest trend. At the moment it happens to be sustainability. I for one hope that it not only stays in all of our consciences, but simply becomes part of the everyday decision making process.

Nature Wrote the Specs

Advertising has an especially important role in presenting the idea of sustainability. Used properly, it can educate and activate the public to make the better decision for themselves and the world around them. Used ineffectively, advertising can make an idea cliché. It can reduce the impact of any movement by blanketing the world with a diluted and unfocused message. The signal would not get through. The message loses it's potency. "Ground control to major tom..."

Zero Worries

Sustainability is at the forefront for a number of reasons. Credit must be given to organizations and individuals working in the field of sustainable design. Such parties include the USGBC (LEED Certification), William McDonough (Cradle to Cradle), Paul Hawken (Natural Capitalism), Janine Benyus (Biomimicry), and Rachel Carson (Silent Spring) among many others. Environmental degradation, as it is being shown and perhaps amplified by our new found ability to broadcast images, scientific data, and individual stories, is having a substantial impact on the common psyche. And of course $4.00 /gal gasoline makes everyone an environmentalist or believe that the sky is falling.

Window in a Tree

The unofficial definition of Greenwash is rather derogatory in nature (see the Wikipedia definition). Greenwashing, also called Greensheen by some, is in my mind not an exclusively negative term and the phrase is probably used too liberally to describe any advertising of sustainable products (I am guilty of this myself). The fact that a subject tries to associate with sustainability is not in itself terrible. We may all define sustainable in different terms and that is understandable. The very fact that people are attempting to draw parallels between their (insert random brand, service, idea) with sustainability is laudable.

What kind of mark

Intentional abuses of advertising are of course reprehensible. A lie concerning the sustainability of a product is heinous because it implies economic, environmental and social sustainability, a triple bottom line. If half-truths about the sustainability of a product are allowed to propagate then the validity of the movement is at risk. At the same time however, we should recognize the need of products and services to align themselves with sustainability, given that they are in fact sustainable.

Paint with Nature

Sustainability is having a measurable impact on the construction industry. Transparency, accreditation and accountability in the building industry are making possible full life-cycle assessments in which raw material gathering, manufacture, marketing, delivery, installation and operation is documented for impact. This allows designers and owners to make educated decisions about products based on their overall affect on the environment, economy and society. We are facing a completely new realignment of manufacturing, service providers, designers and owners and the changes will not only affect the building industry.

Facade in the Grand Canyon

Presented here are good examples of advertising with 'green' as a theme. The selected ads are not what I consider greenwashing, but do skirt a line where a product becomes dubiously associated with nature. Photoshop is wonderful and it can do some amazing things, but even it has a hard time blurring the boundary between ceiling tiles and a tree canopy or a building and a polar bear or a window and a tree. These products are actually revolutionary in many ways. Some of them have had full life-cycle assessments. Others are manufactured regionally. That said, much of that is lost in delivery. Simply placing a product in a pot of soil does not convey the depth of thought and design that has gone into the product to make it nearly all bio-based or recyclable.

Thermal Insulation Standards

It is my hope that advertisers recognize the important role they play in delivering the important lesson of sustainability and produce advertising to suit. Boiling sustainability down to 'a forest stream' or the 'grand canyon' just dilutes the concept. It is ok for advertising to show the complexity of a sustainable product or service. We the public are able to comprehend rather complex problems when presented well and would love nothing more than to have sustainability placed within the context of your (insert random brand, service, idea).

Forest Path

Potted Plants

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11 Comments

June 30th, 2008 at 3:33 AM

Blizej Natury » Blog Archive » Greenwashing: Thoughts and How It Is Changing the Industry

[...] post by jonasrisen Leave a [...]

June 30th, 2008 at 6:13 PM

Mary Hunt

You're missing a critical standard - SMaRT. That's the one the US Conference of Mayors and the City of Santa Monica are going with. Here's the link to the awards where members of Santa Monica gave their reasons for SMaRT Certification. http://sustainableproducts.blip.tv

July 2nd, 2008 at 12:14 PM

aditya

I recently read a post on obsessive compulsive environmentalism, which I think relates to how we are trying to put this message of ?going green? in almost everything we do including our advertisements.

July 2nd, 2008 at 1:31 PM

Greenwash Watch: Has Green Advertising Nuked the Fridge?

[...] 2nd, 2008 · No Comments Jonasrisen at the always interestingGreenline does a wonderful job of collecting the most obvious and awful greenwashing ads in the architectural [...]

July 2nd, 2008 at 1:34 PM

Greenwash Watch: Has Green Advertising Nuked the Fridge? | Alt Dot Energy

[...] the Fridge? Published July 2nd, 2008 in General News. Jonasrisen at the always interestingGreenline does a wonderful job of collecting the most obvious and awful greenwashing ads in the architectural [...]

July 2nd, 2008 at 1:36 PM

Eco-Cide: Exploring Ecology

[...] at the always interesting Greenline does a wonderful job of collecting the most obvious and awful greenwashing ads in the architectural [...]

July 3rd, 2008 at 9:31 AM

Henry

Excellent post Jonas, and love the examples - we featured you on our own blog today. I work for a sustainability communications agency, we recently wrote a guide on how to spot greenwash and came to much the same conclusion about how damaging it can be to create a "diluted and unfocused message." Have a look at our guide here: http://www.futerra.co.uk/downloads/Greenwash_Guide.pdf - any comments welcome.

July 11th, 2008 at 4:21 PM

Fred Scharmen

Greenwashing + Photoshopping = GreenShopping?

July 11th, 2008 at 7:12 PM

Sukanya

Hopefully the green "trend" will just turn into a way of life for some people.

August 13th, 2008 at 1:27 AM

Greenline » Life Cycle Assessment: Building for Environmental and Economic Sustainability (BEES 4.0)

[...] would say that BEES 4.0 is not for the faint of heart, timid, or designers just trying to greenwash a project. BEES 4.0 software is extremely useful to designers interested in finding out the LCA [...]

June 3rd, 2009 at 4:36 PM

What do Led Zeppelin and Sustainability have in common? « Feeling the Fear

[...] much nonsense has absolutely shat in the face of sustainability and its very point. That’s why so many [...]

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