In Green blitz by ad folk can muddy the reality, the Toronto Star attempts to wade through the messy minefield of eco-advertising with the mantra “It sounds good…but is it really green?”. The executive editor of greenbiz.com (an online resource on how to align environmental responsibility with business success) suggests that companies that are doing “more walking than talking” should at least be given a chance to prove themselves.
“He points to General Motors, which has said at least 80 of its worldwide plants would eventually operate in a way that none of its manufacturing by-products would end up in a landfill site and so far they’re making it happen.”
I think that the number one thing that should be supported (and pushed for) in a company is continuous improvement to higher environmental standards. So I commend this effort in the right direction and ask that they provide both a hard timeline in the near future for reaching this goal, that they change it to all of their plants (if they can do it in 80, why not do it in them all?) and set a higher goal for the next stage. I suggest diverting all of their products from the landfill in addition to their by-products by building cars that they take back and disassemble into useful resources again.
It’s often hard to see the fine line between encouraging successful business models based on environmental responsibility and giving old business models a once-over with the greenwash. In this article, the executive editor of greenbiz.com Joel Makower goes on to say,
“But does that make [GM] a green company? It’s very complicated…They’re not trying to save the planet, they aren’t trying to save the bunnies. They’re selling a product and to do that in these times they have to appear to be environmentally sensitive.”
The suggestion that all that companies need to do is appear to be environmentally sensitive perpetuates the idea that companies can just greenwash their products to bamboozle dull-minded treehuggers into buying them. I also think it is very unwise to trivialize the effort to maintain the physical support systems of the planet by reducing it to “save the bunnies”. Everything, including business, functions within the physical and biological sphere of the planet. If those systems break down, business won’t be able to continue on its merry way.
The ‘more walking than talking’ measuring stick may be a useful one in some cases, but often customers only have the information producers have chosen to supply on the label. More often than not, they’re very vague. Common terms such as “natural, earth-friendly, free-range, non-toxic” and “eco-friendly” are just marketing terms in Canada, they’re not regulated by any government body. Thinking critically is one way the article suggests to get around this dilemma (for instance, its unlikely that a pesticide marketed as natural while also labelled with the skull and crossbones symbol as poisonous is the most environmentally friendly choice available) and avoiding products that don’t give adequate information, like biodegradable plastic that doesn’t specific how long it will take or in what conditions.
The article concludes with the recommendation to check for third party certification for an eco-label and recommends the EcoLogo.
But are all eco-labels created equal? I think some more critical thinking is required.