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April 08, 2007


Chris Harges

Part of the problem is that action is difficult without information. In this case, the missing information is an understandable set of standards businesses or consumers can use to help them make decisions.

For consumers, the problem is most apparent when it comes to "sustainable" products. The problem is twofold. First, too many, vastly different practices (from “recyclable” to “no child labor”) get grouped under the “sustainable” umbrella. Second, there is no user-friendly benchmark to refer to when making claims. Even when it comes to hard facts like energy used in manufacturing, a consumer is not likely to make much of a five-digit number followed by “BTU” or “kWh.”

Until understandable standards are developed and consumers are educated about these standards, even the most active LOHAS consumers are just shooting in the dark. The rest of us stand puzzled in front of store shelves wondering what to do.

Greg Chambers

Having spent a few decades in the corporate world, I always view these green declarations with a grain of salt, especially from larger companies. What they do at one site may likely not be happening at all sites. Think of a corporation that is decentralized. Each site manager gets to make his own decisions. So even though the Corporate office is doing something that does not automatically mean all sites are doing it unless they make that kind of declaration. gc

click here if you care about the environment

What a company does if far more important to me than what they say.

Bobby Croghan

As a commercial interior designer, I am bombarded with all the green statistics of products and building strategies. Then we get a "lunch and learn" toting all of these new products and procedures...served on what? Plasticware. It takes a ton of research and time, AND trust, to know who is doing what they say and if they have a truly vested interest in the environment.


It often times is too expensive. I looked into solar panels for our home, and was told that it would take 20 years to pay them off at our high month current electric rates. If we sold our house, we would be left with the bill still. No way, can I do that.

Also, we have to remember that when we take energy conserving actions on individual basis that result in savings, we have to put that savings into more conservation, or into companies that save energy in production or services. Otherwise, our savings, when invested or spent hap-hazardly will increase energy use elsewhere. That is why a nation wide effort is really needed. If everybody is required to install practices that save energy, than our savings goes back into a energy sustainable, and global warming reducing economy by rule (or by law). And the companies that don't invest in such things, will not have a short term competetive advantage.


I'm as guilty as the rest, I suppose. I drive a hybrid but I still haven't called our utility company to see if we can purchase renewable energy. I have chosen 20 percent of my investments to be with socially responsible companies, but our front and backyard lawns and gardens are water hogs in what is essentially a desert.

It does take time and energy, few things people have much of these days. But I think I'm like most people in that I want to lead a moral life on this Earth. And if I ignore the environment, especially at this critical stage, then I really can't consider myself moral.

I've thought that it must be even more difficult for businesses, where the issues are more complex and bottomline is reviewed every quarter.

Eddie B

"enough" is as we know a subjective word, so until clear guidelines emerge there will be greenwashing.

these guidelines are inherently industry specific and most likely will come from an industry specific group. take for example the newly formed RITE group in the UK, which "aims to provide advice and fact based information to minimise the negative environmental impact of the production, use and disposal of textiles and apparel. The Group's ultimate goal is to drive forward the sustainable and ethical production of textiles and clothing throughout the global supply chain through a number of innovative initiatives." http://www.ritegroup.org/

in some cases these associations can and should use academic help in developing their guidelines. Cambridge's Institute for Manufacturing's Sustainable Manufacturing Group (http://tinyurl.com/2p9npw) makes available an extensive report which could help textile industries around the world develop their sustainability programs.

of course, having multiple certifications bodies within one industry around the world is bad. having multiple cert bodies within one country is terrible. But it is progress from where we are today - where there isnt even a solid agreement on the definition of sustainability...

Natural Patriot

Good points about practicing what we preach. And great site generally. I've added you to my blogroll at:

The Natural Patriot
"In order to form a more perfect union"

Luke P

For an intersting and critical perspective on the use of 'sustainability' talk and corporate social repsonsibility as 'greenwashing', this book is excellent:

Johnston, J., M. Gismondi, and J. Goodman 2006. Nature’s Revenge: Reclaiming Sustainability in an Age of Corporate Globalization. Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview Press.

Paul Bertram

One of the problems in evaluating the sustainability of construction products is that manufacturers have become confused about what and how to report information on their products. This is a result of no exisitng industry accepted sustainable product attribute reporting guides. ASTM E- 2129, Standard Practice for Data Collection for Sustainability Assessment of Building Products (see www.astm.org search e2129), is a good beginning but many manufacturers do not utilize because the designers are not requesting that standard. Instead many firms created their own questionnaires.

CSI, The construction Specifications Institue has introduced GreenFormat as a possible solution.

The Construction Specifications Institute (CSI) Sustainable Facilities Task Team has created a product data format that will organize the ‘green’ properties of building materials and components used during construction. After months of development work, the initial result of these efforts—CSI GreenFormat: A Reporting Guide for Sustainable Criteria of Products—will soon be available for a limited beta test.

GreenFormat will provide a standardized format for reporting information about the sustainable attributes of construction products. This information is expected be stored in a Web-accessible database that allows users to sort and view the data in various ways to best suit a project’s needs. Additionally, the database will offer a benefit to manufacturers, as a way to present information about the lifecycle qualities of their products to specifiers in a clear, consistent, and concise way.

This effort will be demonstrated at the CSI Show in Baltimore this June

see www.csinet.org - find GreenFormat under Standards and Formats

Paul R Bertram, Jr. FCSI, CDT, LEED AP
CSI Insttute Vice President
Executive LIaison to the Sustainable Facilties Task Team

Dale Fitzgibbons

Joel...Your last blog entry about all of us having some greenwasher in us seems accurate on the surface. However, let's face it, corporations are MUCH more responsible for pollution than individuals. As you point out in your "Beyond the Bottom Line" book (p.127), individuls contribute an infinitesimal amount of Gross Municpal Trash to our Gross National Trash figure. Since corporations produce the largest amount of pollution and since they have the most power, resources and leverage let's let the poor individual citizen off the hook and put the blame (and remediation) where it belongs...on the shoulders of the "most pwerful institution on the planet" (Willis Harman, I believe).

John Douglas Archer

"Am I really doing all that I can to address the environmental problems that concern me most?"

This question's alright. I'd rather see a message honed more like this:

"Oi! You over there with the m-o-n-e-y. Yes, you buying things. What are you voting for with those dollars?"

Maybe I'm splitting hairs here but I do feel strongly that rather than approaching folks with the moralistic questions of 'walking our talk', I think the time has come for heavy emphasis on how we, as consumers, spend our money. The time has more than come. It's overdue. Let's send a clearer message and cause market data that reflects this. For me, this inspires the question:

How can we articulate ourselves to big business?

Ben Hall

Very interesting article. Having recently started a green-themed blog for VIA Technologies, it certainly got me thinking and, in fact, I wrote a small piece addressing some of the same issues on the new site.

The article's entitled "The Greenwashing Dilemma". If any of you've got the time I'd certainly be interested to hear what you think of VIA's green initiatives. Greenwashing?

Thanks for the articles and insightful blog.

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