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Sins of Greenwashing, Part 1

Last week I referenced the great site "Sins of Greenwashing." They list seven sins (they started with six, and I expect they'll find more soon enough!) and I thought I would look at those seven sins quickly from a flooring point of view. This is going to take two posts, since HF mag prefers I keep these somewhat short-always a challenge!

All credit goes to TerraChoice Environmental Marketing Inc. for this excellent concept.

The "Hidden Trade-Off" sin is a common one, where a company emphasizes a single great "green" attribute, but doesn't look at all the other points. Bamboo, for example, is very green based on being so extremely rapidly renewable, but on the other hand, it requires a lot of energy to process into flooring. One aspect doesn't make the other point less true or less important, but a fair discussion of any green product needs to look at the entirety, not just one part. (See my earlier post on bamboo for more on that product specifically.)

The sin of "No Proof" is pretty easy to recognize, but frankly, I give it a little less weight then the TerraChoice people do. They suggest that every company get third-party certification of their claims, but I do still believe in a little bit in trust. If a company tells me "this product is urea-formaldehyde free," I tend to take their word for it. I believe that self-certification is a valid option. (After all, so does the USGBC's LEED program.)  I don't require (or believe in) third-party certification for every claim made. That said, no company should be afraid of independent testing or proving a claim when there's an important reason or cause to doubt, and any company found making a false claim should be punished legally.

The implication is often that just because it is wood, it's enough to be green.

"Vagueness" is a very common sin in the wood industry. The implication is often that just because it is wood, it's enough to be green. Now, I've made it completely clear that I think "wood is good," and certainly it is one of the "greenest" of all green building products. But a wood company has to know a bit more about their wood's source and how it's processed before they can start claiming they are green just because they handle a wood product.

TerraChoice defines "Worshiping False Labels" as "a product that, through either words or images, gives the impression of third-party endorsement where no such endorsement exists." I called it last week "Greenwashing with Logos." When a company covers their website or promotional material with logos and text that suggests every item they stock is FSC-certified or their entire product line is formaldehyde-free, even though every product isn't, that's false labeling.

There are three sins left to look at next week.

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