According to Linda Gilbert of Ecofocus Worldwide, 87% of Americans say we need to change how we impact the environment. That’s a particularly noteworthy statistic, given that a March 2010 Gallup poll showed that only 50% of Americans believed that Earth’s temperature changes are due to the effects of pollution from human activities.
And green has gone mainstream. According to Suzzane Shelton of the Shelton Group 64% of the population now actively looks for green products. (See more in this great article - Consumers Are Confused on What is Green and Who to Trust.)
Despite this positive momentum toward a healthier planet, consumers are increasingly confused about the language used in describing green products and the legitimacy of companies’ claims.
Sometimes unintentionally, sometimes purposefully, companies add to this uncertainty with claims that are not always completely accurate. (Yes, can you imagine? Companies lie sometimes!)
Though the FTC took action in 2009 to affirm that it expected environmental advertisements to be “truthful, substantiated, and not confusing to customers” the temptation to cheat is real and growing, as Americans’ interest in green products is accompanied by a newfound willingness to pay a premium for those products. (We’ll address this issue of ‘greenwashing’ in a future post.)
As interest in ‘green’ living grows, so too does confusion about the concept of sustainable living.
A bigger issue, though, is consumers’ struggle to understand what exactly is good for the planet and for our ‘selves.’ Which kind of plastics are recyclable? What do the experts say (today) about carcinogens? Are products made of bamboo really more earth friendly than wood? There’s so much information available in this Internet age in which we live, yet it can be maddeningly difficult to sort through it all and to keep pace with changes.
Do the Right Thing
Most of us simply want to do the ‘right’ thing, but we’re not even always clear about what that is. We need to – at a minimum – understand the terminology. Let’s take a closer look at some of the terms that are frequently used (and misused) in describing ‘green’.
According to a 1987 definition by the United Nations General Assembly, sustainability means that something “meets the needs of the present, without undermining future generations to meet their needs.” (Unlike, say, allowing the federal budget deficit to balloon at the expense of future generations. But, hey, that’s a completely different topic.)
According to the Urban Green Partnership:
Green is the design, commercialization, and use of processes & products that are feasible and economical while
- Reducing the generation of pollution at the source
- This highlights one of the sources of our general confusion.
Consider how ‘relative’ that definition really is. Note that they say ‘reducing’ the generation of pollution and ‘minimizing’ the risk. In neither case does the UGP definition say ‘eliminating’.
Generally speaking, at Green and Gay we believe that businesses (and the products they produce) can be considered green if their practices don’t cause significant environmental harm and are sustainable.
That’s a pretty broad range, clearly. But it’s important to consider where to draw the lines. It’s not hard to see that a t-shirt company making organic-cotton t-shirts in its fair-trade shop with minimal waste would be considered green. But what about the auto manufacturer who has a green model factory to demonstrate their environmental commitment? (And what if that auto manufacturer is simultaneously fighting efforts to strengthen emission-control regulations?)
And this points to one of the issues with understanding ‘green’. It’s all relative. Doing better is doing good, and we can all strive to keep doing better every day. Being green has many shades of grey.