What Does ‘Green’ Mean?


“Green is when we are actually healing the ecosystems of the planet we depend upon. Anything less is just slowing the damage. It’s sort of useless.”

— Greg Gerritt, Environmental Council of Rhode Island

The meaning of “green” has faded. Public relations firms and marketing agencies have diluted it to get their corporate clients’ overhyped and overpriced environmentally friendly impostors the biggest share possible of the eco-conscious consumer dollar.

If we were to believe all of this eco-friendly propaganda, green oil and gas are available. We can drive green SUVs and enjoy green vacations at Walt Disney World.

This relentless barrage of eco-PR is overwhelming. There’s green dog food, green chocolate bars and green undergarments, such as an “eco-friendly” bra that doubles as a shopping bag. Most every company is touting something green, which is why many consumers don’t know whether a company or product really is environmentally friendly.

Many of these self-proclaimed green companies spend more time and money claiming to be green through advertising and marketing than actually implementing business practices that minimize environmental impacts. It’s nothing more than whitewashing, but with a green brush.

All of this market manipulation has robbed the green movement of its voice. Talk of sustainability and reduced consumerism has been drowned out by corporate marketing that utilizes false and misleading claims to awash their bank accounts in green.

Many hotels like to call themselves green because they allow guests to choose to sleep on the same sheets and reuse towels, but they seldom do little else to save water and energy, because the cost to do so would hurt the bottom line. In-ground sprinkler systems running no matter the weather or broken heads creating puddles of mushy lawn are left untouched. Outdated appliances decorate the kitchen and inefficient lighting illuminates hallways. Gas-guzzling vans shuttle people, sometimes no more than two or three at a time, back and forth to the airport.

Earlier this year, the Coca-Cola Co. introduced its new plastic bottle — called the PlantBottle — which is 70 percent petroleum-based, instead of 100 percent. Coke was so impressed with its planet-saving idea of using Brazilian sugarcane to make 30 percent of its plastic bottles that the company’s Dasani bottled water brand last month ran a green-hat giveaway to build awareness of this still-mostly petroleum-based bottle often filled with high-fructose corn syrup.

Hat recipients were notified via e-mail on Earth Day.

Four decades after the first Earth Day was launched to promote environmental awareness and education, the idea has been co-opted by some of the globe’s worst polluters. Chevron, Pacific Gas & Electric, Cargill and the Dow Chemical Co., one of the biggest polluters in global history, sponsored some of the Earth Day events celebrated April 22 across the country.

Earth Day is now less about the appreciation for the environment and more about FAO Schwartz, Proctor & Gamble and other multinationals hyping their green image.

Congress has introduced initiatives, such as the Household Product Labeling Act of 2009 that called for more transparency, but we can’t wait for government to stop this orgy of bogus marketing.

Educating yourself about truly green goods and companies takes time, so ecoRI Inc. would like to help, but we need your assistance. We are creating a database called “Green Guide” that will feature Web sites and products recommended by readers and researched by us. To recommend a Web site or environmentally friendly product/business, please send an e-mail to [email protected]. In the subject line, please write Green Guide.

Frank Carini is the editor of ecoRI News.


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