Abusing the word ‘green’

I have written before about how the word ‘sustainable’ is frequently abused. People often refer to anything done with the slightest bit of environmental awareness as ‘sustainable’. Thus, it is ‘sustainable’ to bring your own mug to Starbucks or turn off the lights when you leave the room. In reality, a sustainable process or situation is one that can be carried on indefinitely. Sustainable electricity generation must be based on renewable sources of energy, and sustainable agriculture must have no non-renewable inputs.

If anything, the word ‘green’ is even more abused than the word ‘sustainable’. The U.S. Air Force claims that its synthetic jet fuel is ‘green’ even though it is made with fossil fuels. Any time there is a marginal improvement in a dirty process, it is heralded as a ‘green’ accomplishment.

None of this is to say that small improvements don’t matter. The global energy system needs to be reformed from the ground up, in big ways as well as small. What I am arguing is that we should not allow the definition of words like ‘green’ and ‘sustainable’ to be diluted to the point where they are just public relations tools. A green initiative or innovation is one that contributes meaningfully to the kind of sustainable world we need to build. It is not just something that can be marketed to those who find it chic to care about the environment.

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

3 thoughts on “Abusing the word ‘green’”

  1. Most products claiming to be green are living in sin

    Of course you can’t believe everything you read on labels, especially when it comes to green claims. But the BS is a lot more rampant than even the cynic in me suspected.

    A new survey by TerraChoice, the environmental marketing firm, concludes that more than 95 percent of the “green” products it analyzed were guilty of at least one sin of greenwashing. The bogus promises are particularly bad when it comes to toys and baby products — TerraChoice found that 100 percent of the toys and more than 99 percent of the baby products it analyzed were guilty of misleading consumers, at least to some degree.

    The number of products claiming to be green has jumped by 73 percent in the past year, with a huge increase in the number of toys and baby products claiming to be free of BPA — the compound used in plastics that was recently listed as toxic by the Canadian government. The study also found that you’re more likely to find “sin-free” products in big box stores than in boutiques.

    But hey, there’s one glimmer of hope. These days a whopping 4.5 percent of the products TerraChoice reviewed weren’t guilty of any greenwashing. Three years ago, it was 1 percent.

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