Greenwashing rewash

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Image: Courtesy TerraChoice


In March, I asked whether TerraChoice's "Seven Sins of Greenwashing," a report on false claims around environmental performance, could be applied to whole buildings. Yesterday, the Ottawa-based marketing firm released its latest version of the report. Among the new findings: Since 2009, the number of products advertised as green has increased 73 percent, and over 95 percent of the total make misleading or inaccurate claims.


Back in the spring, I asked whether the same level of scrutiny could be used to review green buildings, which would be a useful exercise to determine how many projects actually deliver what they promise. However, a more relevant use of the TerraChoice literature would be to study green building products. How much of what we put in our buildings actually does what the manufacturers claim?


The Federal Trade Commission's Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims, also known as the "Green Guides," should regulate such marketing, but the guidelines haven't been updated since 1998. However, earlier this month, the FTC announced a proposal to overhaul the Green Guides. Now's the time for building product manufacturers to get out in front of new regulations and walk the talk.



Comments (5 Total)

  • Posted by: Anonymous | Time: 8:41 PM Thursday, November 18, 2010

    Conservation and stewardship are essential elements in the architectural profession. Green washing and whacko environmentalism based on emotion NOT observational science has become the "soup du jour". California is LEEDING the way in Hoax and Fear, sad State of affairs this has wrought.

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  • Posted by: Anonymous | Time: 4:28 PM Friday, October 29, 2010

    So Lance, does this mean that PA will take down the images under their P/A Awards banner of all glass buildings in NY that are supposedly "green"? Perhaps you will at least add a disclaimer about the dubious claims for energy savings? I only had to click on one button too find an example, I am sure there are many more include in your magazine and website. Will you scrub those out too? How committed are you and the magazine you represent to truly sustainable design?

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  • Posted by: Lance Hosey | Time: 5:02 PM Thursday, October 28, 2010

    Two quick replies. (1) I completely agree with the second/later comment, and many of my columns have addressed the disconnect between standards of "beauty" and standards of environmental performance. My forthcoming book is about this, actually. (2) On the earlier comment, "good old responsible design" isn't always enough in an era when our products, our environment, and our bodies are increasingly exposed to and filled with chemical toxins that are invisible and didn't exist until recently. We need better standards for improving the health and safety of the stuff we make.

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  • Posted by: Anonymous | Time: 4:58 PM Wednesday, October 27, 2010

    Perhaps Architect magazine ought to take a look inside before throwing stones at manufacturers. How many of these all-glass, R-2 curtain-walled buildings that you publicize as great examples of sustainable design are really saving energy. It turns out that many were justified using over-optomistic analysis and in the end perform pretty poorly. The list of overly publicized, highly regarded, highly rated, high-design follies that are in fact energy hogs is quite long. Perhaps your magazine could lead the charge agains the idea that simply using bamboo floors and wallpaper made from old tires turns an energy hog into a green building. Maybe you could look just a bit deeper before believing the hype from the big name architect.

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  • Posted by: Anonymous | Time: 2:49 PM Wednesday, October 27, 2010

    what audacity to challenge the claims of manufacturers! if they make the claim it must be so!! quite honestly, i am getting a bit tired of all this green stuff. what happened to good old responsible design? why do we have to have a glitzy label? i was raised an environmentalist back before that is what it was called. we turned off lights, water, etc because we could not afford otherwise. we did not litter or through trash because it was ugly. we reused stuff because it saved money. we recycled soda bottles and aluminum cans because we got cash for it. years lated i discovered it was green! wahoo. just being responsible is what i say.

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About the Blogger

Lance Hosey

thumbnail image Contributing editor and author of ARCHITECT’s monthly Eco column, Lance Hosey, AIA, LEED AP, Hon. FIGP, is president and CEO of GreenBlue, a nonprofit and consultancy dedicated to environmental innovation and the creative redesign of industry. A registered architect, he is a former director at William McDonough + Partners. With Kira Gould, he is the co-author of Women in Green: Voices of Sustainable Design (2007). His forthcoming book, The Shape of Green: Aesthetics, Ecology, and Design, studies how form and image can enhance conservation, comfort, and community at every scale of design, from products to cities.