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June 16, 2010


Gil Friend


Ron Schaeffer

It's "Who's fooling whom". That's the only comment or correction I can make to your "right-on-the-money" article. You are right, and I'm certainly one the guilty consumers who talks a good game. I personally think it is going to take strong and consistent leadership from the business community to bring consumers around. Perhaps I'm wrong, but that is where my money would go.

Jeff Springer

Is there a list by a reputable environmental org of "greenwash" products, services, or companies that we can refer to over time and that is updated periodically?

Anyone know of one?

Paul Grover

Hi Joel,

My, you are on the bitter side today, and that's fine and perhaps justified. But how about going beyond this rant?

How about telling us what non "greenwash consumer" might look and act like? Or are all consumers, by definition, greenwashers and the problem is consumers.

It's easy to do what you've done in this piece, but it's more difficult to give a vision of what a responsible energy/environmental user might look like. Give us a vision.

Mikhail Davis

Joel, I've always agreed with your skepticism of all the "green consumer" polling data, but I think we should dig a little deeper as to what these polls actually mean. The LOHAS and Eco-pulse polls reflect the fact that there is interest, if not actual changed purchasing habits. As in, "well, I looked for greener products... but found that they still are mostly more expensive and/or of unknown/dubious quality compared to what I normally buy." I am actually skeptical of the whole concept of "environmentally aware consumption," and not for the obvious oxymoronic reasons. I think very little "awareness" is ever involved in the average shopping trip and as long as we are all working long hours and fending off our fussing children while squeezing in a shopping trip before bedtime, there never will be. Even simplifying environmental labels (a la the Walmart Index) may not make a difference to average harried "consumer." Rather than hoping for the Aware Consumer to emerge from his/her daily stupor, let's work on getting the one label right that consumers are already looking at, the price tag. I don't have all the answers here but shifting payroll taxes into carbon taxes would be a start.

Rob Shelton


For years, consumers have been talking a bigger greeen game than they have played.

You are right. It is time we faced this reality.

Dave Meyer

Joel- you struck a nerve that suggests to look no farther than the end of my nose! Just as you, Gil, me and other sustainability practitioners need to practice what we preach, consumer watchdogs must keep companies feet to the fire to verify (via certification?) the "green" values of their products through the entire supply chain. Finally with the variety of authentic sustainable lifestyle choices available, it takes concerted efforts to "sell" the value proposition to the average consumer...price is still the main differentiator for most and the value argument needs to overcome this huge hurdle for the average shopper. Keep up the great thought leadership- we all expect nothing less from you! @DRMeyer1

Jeff Dubin

Joel, I agree that the extent of most consumers’ green behavior has been – shall we say – disappointing. But I disagree that most consumers are masquerading as eco-heroes. My quantitative and qualitative marketing research has shown that consumers are pretty honest about their shortcomings as citizens of Planet Earth.

I think consumers should be called to task for their apathy about the environment and for their lack of motivation to improve it. Calling them greenwashers, though, puts the spotlight on their honesty when it really needs to be placed on their apathy and low motivation.

That being said, I agree with Mikhail that fighting the consumer’s “daily stupor” will not achieve as much as lowering the prices of green products. Add to lower prices improved consumer awareness of green brands and increased availability and you might see more consumers look like eco-heroes even if that’s not their main intention.


Joel, as an environmentalists doing my best and having improved over the last decade (I believe), what you are calling greenwashing by the consumer is a simple necessity in a world that has not yet made the changes necessary to make better choices possible. The changes you have mentioned consumers have made are the choices made possible by the little change that has happened in our basic infrastructure in the past decade or so. These are choices that an economically and time squeezed populace have the ability to make.

Here, in our small city of around 200,000 people, the public transportation options are paultry: bus is the option, it does not run on the weekends and there are long waits at the stops for buses to come by--at least 45 minutes. Though recently the company that runs it has invested in hybrid buses--that's an improvement, but only people without access to personal transportation are going to take that option, because our schedules combined with their low availablility of service simply don't make it possible to use.

Today and yesterday I went grocery shopping. I shop two stores and purchase the best food I can for health of my family and the environment. After tallying my purchase today, out of curiousity, I decided to see what the average cost of my products were. The average was $3.23. I had several purchases for bulk organic treats including nuts and dried fruit that cost more than $10.00. This is groceries for a family of 3 with one vegetarian for two weeks. That truly is doing my best because we also live on a rather paultry income--but that is from a committed environmentalists that has striven for over 20 years to be in the know and act accordingly when possible. I also drive a car that gets above 30mpg in town--one I can afford to purchase in the first place. I would love to do better, but affordable options aren't out there.

It seems to me that your energies might be better applied towards criticizing the policy and decision makers that are holding up the real needed changes in our basic infrastructures including locally grown food systems, national and local rail systems and other public transportation, stepped up requirements for better gas mileage on all transportation vehicles, investments in truly renewable energy research and implementation, etc.

Thanks for the opportunity to voice my thoughts.

Chaz Miller


Excellent column and spot on. The reality is that the actions of individual companies have a far greater impact than those of consumers. We are seeing the results of this constantly as companies make real and lasting commitments to lowering their carbon footprint and - more importantly - follow through on those commitments. Which is not to say that all companies are moving in this direction, just that what was once a fad is now becoming business as usual in many companies.
Consumers have fewer options because they control fewer resources. Moreover, consumers like to give the politically correct answers to surveys. No one holds them accountable for their follow-up actions (maybe we need a truth in answering surveys law?).
Let's face it - when BP spills oil in the Gulf, they have a big impact. When you or I spill oil we have a much smaller impact. Sustainability is no different.

Gil Friend

There's another big challenge in here: breaking the addiction to consumption. (Which used to be the name of a disease, not an aspiration.)

Not just our personal "consumer" greed (though there is that), but the addiction of almost every company's business model to "make more money by selling more stuff". Until we see business models that make more money selling LESS stuff, we can't win this thing.

Air Conditioners

I think this is quite an interesting posting on green washers. I think we all should definitely do our part to help our environment.

Craig Shields

I love Gil Friend's observation that consumption used to describe a lethal infection - Tuberculosis.

While TB has ended the lives of a billion people over the past two hundred years alone, our modern "consumption" threatens to usher in not only the starvation of several billion of us as the ecology collapses under the weight of our collective waste and carelessness, but also perhaps the greatest mass extinction of species in our planet's long life.

Joel quite adroitly shakes us from the slumber of self-righteous blame. Although no one has enough fingers to point out all the abuses and (B)roken (P)romises heaped up in recent history by the "fictitious persons" known as corporations, the lack of ethical human values and ignorant or thoughtless behavior are always at the root of our errant economic view of the world. Human drives move corporations, and the tolerance and participation of wider society enables their abuses to continue.

The Hummer (God rest it's 6,000 pound soul) could never have achieved favorable status of any kind in a truly enlightened society, and while China's and India's billion-plus populations are growing weary of riding their bicycles, if we were a wise people, the bike commute would be a soaring trend here - as would telecommuting.

We need to wake up as a national and a global population to the fact that massive social change toward sustainability is long overdue and is the only thing that will stop us borrowing time from our grandchildren that we can't pay back.

This massive swing may have had its beginning in the many small steps of individuals toward efficiency that Joel enumerates, but there's a huge history of indoctrinated mindset and love of convenience that needs to be penetrated, illustrated, deconstructed and shunted into the past before the future brightens.

We're missing the boat if we fail to realize - as other nation's have begin to do - that there's great potential for prosperity in a green economy. Here's a little more discussion on the subject of green jobs market:


What most people don't realize is that Americans are now working more, and doing so more productively, for less and less over time in terms of compensation, and of course much less time and energy to spend with family and friends. We can move into a more sustainable design for society and improve our lifestyle at the same time. It does, however, take the will to resist the fiercely encouraged desire for so many things, and to shift the emphasis back to defining ourselves by what we think and do, and not by how much we own.

Thanks again, Joel, for a sobering splash of cold reality for a choir that sings to a greed-washed and greenback-driven congregation. A little more genuinely positive movement in our own lives brings conviction as we move to change the world.

Craig Shields

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i think consumers should be called to task for their apathy about the environment and for their lack of motivation to improve it.

David Fox

Hey Joel, thanks for bringing this book to my attention. I've been working on this nation myself, though I haven't been able to present it nearly so convincingly as you, not to mention Lisa! I'm going to order Mesh right now - digital delivery of course.

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i guess it is going to take strong and consistent leadership from a business community to bring consumers around and make them satisfied,great lens will credit this.

Pex Tubing

there a list by a reputable environmental org of greenwash products that we can refer to over time and that is updated periodically?

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