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January 10, 2008


One Square Foot

I think, to an extent, this is fine. Companies that are just 'greenwashing' really need to be called out on it and to be told that its not acceptable to just say something is green just to get more business.

On the other hand, I don't think government needs to step in and make up rules. Invariably this sort of thing turns into a "find the loophole in the law" sort of game for companies.

As long as people continue to take companies to task, (that aren't following through on their promises) I think its great the way it is.

Wal-Mart is serious, for example, and they've more or less gotten alot of praise for it. A minority of folks may be critical, but the praise/criticism seems pretty accurate.

The biggest thing is: If citizens are concerned about the environment and they are well informed, the capital markets and political markets will naturally fix themselves. This is the beauty of our democratic political system and our capitalistic economic system.

Andrew Pace

I started selling environmentally friendly and healthy building products 15 years ago...back when green was just a color. As an industry, we have lost focus on a primary reason for building green, human health. That's just my opinion.

On topic though, it's evident that green is now being embraced in the corporate world and the free market watering it down. Our response was to create the Degree of Green rating system, which reveals at what level building and home improvement products are green, sustainable and healthy, and how the cost of the product compares to traditional products.

The health of the planet and the health of home occupants are serious issues. Let’s not let greenwashing dilute all of our efforts to create safer and greener living environments.


It's a fine line to walk. There's definitely a need to push companies to improve, but there are also an awful lot of people on their soap-box in this particular space. Too often the consensus is that if a company is weak (yet trying) in an isolated area of 'green-ness,' the reaction they receive is attack.

Instead, shouldn't the green community be applauding each step in the right direction? Honestly, we're all in this together, aren't we?

Certainly green-washing is another issue entirely. But if we set that aside and focus on the companies that are taking steps in the right direction, the fact is that we see too often - especially in online media, but also traditional media outlets - that the green community too often expects an all or nothing change, and that's not how it works in the business world.

There's a time for calling out companies on the things they need to improve, but the green community has a tendency to be a vigilant, negative, and overly exclusivist bunch who too frequently scare away those on the fringe, rather than inviting them in to go deeper. And an invitation accompanied by a smile usually gets a better response than a gnarling guard dog.

Sure, let's work together to push companies to higher standards. But maybe we can find a way to do that without alienating newcomers. Today's newcomers are tomorrow's advocates.

Lisa N. Fernandez

Great points.

If companies are more afraid of negative fall-out from greenwashing criticism than they are committed to invest in "green" products/services and to implement eco-responsible practices in-house, then we are going to move backwards - not forwards.

Until "green" products, services and practices are more the norm in the U.S., we won't be able to see the larger percentages of customers tauted above making eco-friendly choices. Rather than rely on market research reports, let's look where market players like Walmart and GE are investing (see FT 1/14/08 on GE plans to double investment in renewable energy).

Soul Economy

The green consumer is also on the rise in Australia with the environment a growing concern, in part the result of severe drought in some areas, including the main cities on the East Coast which is impacting the average consumer. It is good for the customer to be able to benchmark companies against a standard in order to reward those who are doing more than simply "greenwashing". From a company perspective, some are reluctant to heavily promote their activities for fear of being seen as "greenwashing" and media scrutiny. Overall, market forces (and the use of Web 2.0 technologies to keep companies honest) will ensure companies that are "doing the right thing" will be rewarded - by consumers, investors and other stakeholders.

Henk Campher

It seems as if everyone thinks that the world is going green. And that consumers will just buy, buy, buy what is green. And that the green consumer is reaching tipping point. Not really. It depends on what they buy and how they will use it - and a million other things that will go through their minds when they decide to buy something. In my blog http://henkc.livejournal.com/#asset-henkc-1185 I ask whether it is time for a green blow up doll next?


Great post Joel - reflects my own cynical view of all the research that's been spewing out on 'green' over the last few months.

Hopefully, carefull companies know to take any such research with a pinch of salt - especially when it concerns attitudes such as green behaviour which consumers are likely to espouse but less likely to actually act on.

It's also a signal to PR agencies to stop luring their clients into poorly researched, bandwagon 'thought leadership' pieces - I'm pretty sure such an attitude was responsible for the rush of such reports over the summer.


Will O'Neill

Great article, Joel. These statistics really highlight the self-attribution errors people make. A person may claim that they consider sustainability issues in most of their purchases and then hop in their Hummer and not think twice about it. I think it would be difficult to find people who admit to not trying to make any sustainable purchases. Even if a person is living drastically unsustainably they will not want to admit it, even to themselves.

To echo several other posts, businesses have not been shy about taking advantage of consumer's 'green' purchases. If they simply find a mildly plausible way to market their product as 'eco-friendly' then consumers lately will purchase the product. The business sells more products, the consumer convinces themselves they are making intelligent purchases. Everyone wins except for the environment.

Jabeen Quadir

I've noticed more and more that people are having a negative reaction to people driving Hummers and SUVs. Auto companies are closing down plants building these gas-guzzling vehicles. Is that because we're all becoming more conscious of our environmental impacts or because of the skyrocketing cost of gasoline? I think most consumers are still not "conscious" or conscientious about making environmentally preferable choices, unless it saves them money.


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