Building With the Future in Mind Since 1955

Rick Dubrow’s “On The Level” Column in the Cascadia Weekly; Submitted 7-11-08

Just about everything, we’re now told, is earth-friendly. It’s ubiquitous. Marketing, suddenly, is all about waving the flag of environmental benefits.

Even ‘clean coal’ is earth-friendly.  It must be; I heard it on CNN!

I believe such claims at face value about as far as I can throw a hybrid Chevy Tahoe, the 6,000 pound, 20 mile-per-gallon, 2008 “Green Car of the Year.”

Greenwashing is a big deal, creating countless speed bumps along your road towards doing the right thing.

Check out ‘The Six Sins of Greenwashing’, a study  by TerraChoice Environmental Marketing, in which all but one of the environmental claims being made on more than a thousand reviewed products were either false or misleading!

So, my fellow consumer, how do you differentiate truth from a marketing scam?

You can turn to watchdogs like www.greenwashingindex.com , “…… home of the world’s first online interactive forum that allows consumers to evaluate real advertisements making environmental claims.”  Check it out.

Or you can turn to companies that were early flag wavers of environmental concern, as opposed to firms that have more recently jumped on board in response to our mainstream concern for energy and planetary health.  I’m more likely to trust a company so passionate about the environment that they were willing to publicly voice their concern before their competitors jumped in.  Local companies the likes of Quicksilver Photo Lab, Village Books, Terra Organica, Pastazza Restaurant, Steele and Company (CPA and financial planning), and 2020 Engineering come to mind.

Think about a specific segment of the marketplace and I’ll bet you can name a firm who was a founder in speaking up for the natural world.  And if you can’t, consider referring to Sustainable Connection’s website for our local community of businesses who care about the triple bottom line issues of planet, profit and people!

Governments are also paying attention to the recent wave of greenwashing, perhaps reminiscent of their actions in the early ‘90s when “recycling” and “biodegradable” first became buzzwords. In 1992 the FTC issued its first green guide, clarifying how terms like “recyclable” could be used. Then, when oil prices fell in the late ‘90’s, this early greenwashing wave faded away. “Now there’s a new wave,” says James A. Kohm, the director of the enforcement division at the consumer-protection arm of the FTC. “It’s really more of a tsunami.”

You can also turn to a spectrum of product verification labels — eco-labels such as ‘EnergyStar’, the Forest Stewardship Council’s ‘FSC’ mark for sustainably harvested wood, our local ‘EnviroStar’ program and the USDA ‘organic’ logo.

But how trustworthy are these eco-labels?

The folks at Big Room, Inc. provide a great resource (www.ecolabelling.org) that profiles and categorizes more than 400 eco-labels, the world’s largest database, making it easier for people to make green choices.

Of utmost importance is to ask yourself whether or not you really need to make the purchase in the first place .  Downsizing and curtailment may be your most appropriate action.  But if you don’t hold yourself back it’s critical to have a healthy dose of skepticism about the marketing that reaches your senses.  Hopefully, using these tools can help you avoid being misled on your path towards environmental stewardship.

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