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Greenwashing Debates are Heating Up

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Published On : 02-13-2008
Author : Steve Donegan
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I've heard a lot of talk about greenwashing lately. It's been a topic of discussion for quite some time, but it's getting more attention. Greenwashing is a term used to describe overstating a products "greenness", or, as some have appropriately put it, a products "shade of green". There are two main arguments. The first is that greenwashing is an evil practice used to deceive consumers and slow down the green movement. The second is that accusing companies of greenwashing is unnecessary slander that punishes them for taking small steps in the right direction. What do you think?

Since it's obvious that some companies will want to overstate a products green characteristics to save money, I believe that it's important to call out those who truly and blatantly greenwash. Those companies are either trying to get away with doing the bare minimum or are lying. The importance of green products is largely immeasurable due to the huge and positive effect of their collective use. The luster of green products is that they save so much money. So to lie about something so vastly important is undoubtedly a heinous sin. However, every issue has two extremes - the second being that some commentators and reporters are on a witch hunt, so to speak. Why should we seek to destroy the reputation of a company that is making small steps in the right direction? I doubt that those companies would lie about their shade of green; although, if they did while still making progress, an honest reminder of their particular shade would seem more appropriate. The worst result of the greenwashing witch hunt would be preventing a company from adopting green practices because they don't feel confident enough to go completely green. It's like the kid who doesn't go to the pool because his toes look funny.

I attended a seminar given by Penny Bonda, former president of the USGBC, who said she once asked Ray Anderson, chairman of carpet giant Interface, why they still use PVC backing. She said it keeps him up at night, but they just haven't found another product that performs as well as PVC does. That solution has yet to be found. Meanwhile, PVC will still be mass produced, using tons of petroleum and producing tons of pollution. Do we criticize them for it? Ray Anderson has been a fore-runner in the green movement for over a decade now and has developed more green business practices that almost anyone else. We have to move to a greener world, but we can only do it as fast as we are able. Greenwashing still equals bad, but lets not make fun of ugly toes.

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