Alliance Against Greenwash

by / Thursday, 17 October 2013 / Published in Green Building Consulting
Greenwash Green Building

Sierra Club, GreenPeace, and Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC) are getting behind a new initiative called the “Alliance Against Greenwash.”

Launched by Jason Grant in San Francisco, the Alliance Against Greenwash sets out to fight false advertising around environmental impacts. As wealthy corporations continue buying air-time to proclaim their greenness… there is still no third-party watchdog group to ensure their claims are accurate. No “consumer reports” for green advertising. This has lead to rampant false-claims as companies compete for a growing number of LOHAS consumers.

As LOHAS dollars funnel into companies… we still have no way of knowing whether or not the companies’ advertising campaign accurately represent their overall environmental impact. Has “British Petroleum” really gone “Beyond Petroleum,” the truth is harder to find than watching a snazzy multi-million dollar ad campaign. My fingers are crossed that the Alliance Against Greenwash (“the Alliance”) will help make that truth clear by holding companies accountable to their ads, and calling out greenwashing for what it is – misleading advertising.

Alliance Against Greenwash

Alliance Against Greenwash

Greenwashing Affects Healthy Building Science

At every turn our business is affected by greenwashing.

Business. Many companies say they are models of corporate sustainability, and that they support social and environmental issues through their business practices. Fortunately there are now third-party verification systems, such as B Corp created by B Lab, which can ferret out the false claims and award the true leaders. But many consumers are still unaware of this official system of verification, and therefore any business may continue saying they are “green and sustainable” without having been independently verified. We became a Certified B Corporation – in large part – to demonstrate that we walk our talk.

Environmental Testing. There are DIY tests, non-certified labs, etc., that make claims obviously intended to mimic those of their competing, more officially recognized counterparts. What’s a “HEPA-Like Filter?”  Nobody really knows.

Healthy Building Inspections. There are many certifications that are practically meaningless, many inspection approaches that aren’t thorough, and inspection companies fraught with temptation to ramp up their own scope of work – a clear conflict of interest. But how can an end consumer know all the ins-and-outs from just perusing everyone’s website? They cannot.

Green Building Consulting. This is perhaps the arena with the most obvious transgressions. There are “3rd party” stamps of approval, such as the lumber industry-sponsored Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), that clearly seek to compete with more comprehensive and verifiable sustainability programs – in this case: the Forrest Stewardship Council (FSC). The examples go on and on. How concrete and PVC are super sustainable… why? Because they’re more durable and long-lasting than other alternatives… and they don’t require cutting down trees!  But the truth is more complex.

We need “the Alliance” to help consumers wade through the ads and callout greenwash for what it is – BS!

Alliance Against Greenwash Fact Sheet

The following notes are republished with permission from Jason Grant Consulting.

The Alliance: The Alliance Against Greenwash is a joint initiative of Sierra Club, Greenpeace and the Natural Resources Defense Council. Its mission is to defend true environmental leadership programs and standards while discrediting industry-based standards that attempt to confuse the market through greenwashing.

The Need: Green leadership standards, tools and labels have grown dramatically in prominence over the last decade. The most successful

Greenwashing Monster

Greenwashing Monster

programs are changing the marketplace and supporting significant investment in more environmentally sustainable practices.

Vested interests are seeking to slow the progress driven by leadership standards by developing and promoting competing standards that label products or practices as “green,” but have little or no actual environmental benefit — and marketing them as cheaper and more business-friendly alternatives. These counterfeits mimic the language, structure, and governance systems of true leadership standards to intentionally confuse the market, but at their core they protect the industries that fund them instead of challenging them to improve. From the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, a “sustainable” forestry standard created by forest industry trade associations, to Green Globes, a “green” building rating system supported by timber, vinyl and chemical industries, the sham playbook is consistent, well-funded and all too effective.

The Vision: The Alliance Against Greenwash will…

  • Coordinate the efforts of numerous respected national environmental organizations while building coalitions with leaders in the green building movement. 
  • Defend true green leadership standards and programs while publicly discrediting counterfeit green programs and calling out the vested interests that back them. 
  • Encourage organizations that have been fooled by greenwash programs to discontinue their use.

How We Win:

  1. Rally the Troops – The Alliance will share timely information with and provide opportunities for collective action by key stakeholders, including environmental groups, sustainable design leaders, leadership standards and tool developers and forward-thinking companies.
  2. Reframe the Debate – The Alliance will develop a comprehensive communications strategy that will leverage all available means – including but not limited to a website, social media, and an outspoken PR effort – to spread awareness of the importance of environmental leadership standards and the harm caused by industry-sponsored greenwashing.
  3. Assign Risk to Greenwash – Companies that endorse or legitimize greenwash standards naively will be educated. Those that knowingly support greenwash will be publicly held to account.

For more information: Jason Grant, Jason@jasongrantconsulting.com, 707-536-5983

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