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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

'Green Washing' in Cincinnati

Everywhere you turn you hear about this or that being "green." So what does it really mean to be "green?" Are these products, services and projects really "green" or are they using the term unjustly to help promote their particular item?

'Green Washing' is the unjustified appropriation of environmental virtue by a company, an industry, a government, a politician or even a non-government organization to create a pro-environmental image, sell a product or a policy, or to try and rehabilitate their standing with the public and decision makers after being embroiled in controversy.

Hybrid vehicles, LEED certified buildings and recycling seem to top the list of popular "green" friendly activities. But what are these initiatives really accomplishing? William McDonough and Michael Braungart, authors of Cradle to Cradle, might argue that these are simply initiatives aimed at making these things less bad instead of actually making our community more good.

At the same time, the most ridiculed initiatives seem to be the ones that McDonough and Braungart might appreciate a bit more. Eating less meat, living in walkable communities and rethinking the way in which we design our everyday products would all be examples of making our community "more good." So why aren't these the initiatives our community is grabbing on to?

Maybe it is evidence that this new "green" movement is really just a reflection of economic opportunists looking to capitalize off of the mass appeal of being "green." I'm not quite that cynical as I do believe we are becoming more environmentally conscience. I'm just a bit weary that the majority of being are being educated by pop culture, instead of being educated by the environmentalists out there.

I guess I'll take a LEED Certified office building out in Blue Ash over one that is not LEED Certified, but wouldn't renovating an existing building that currently stands vacant in our center city be the most "green" thing we could do? Or how about ditching that commute in your hybrid vehicle for a daily walk or bike ride to work?

So what do you think...are we doing enough, is the label of "green" being diluted and how can we improve the current situation to remove the confusion and get back to the core issue of being environmentally responsible?

Also check out The Sin of Greenwashing on the thoughtscreen


Mark Miller said...

The whole soviet-style LEED bueaucracy encourages this. The system developed to address greenwashing runs the risk of becoming greenwash itself!

A respondent to the Green Building Alliance Survey said it best: "In a recent building, we received one point for spending an extra $1.3 million for a heat-recovery system that will save about $500,000 in energy costs per year. We also got one point for installing a $395 bicycle rack. This must be corrected."

The best green buildings don't just have fresh air and daylight, they have heart, soul, humanity -- palpable qualities you can feel. In contrast, interactions with the LEED rating system tend to be rigid and soulless, as stark and clinical as a colonoscopy.

LEED and the whole green craze are an interesting fad, but it's just a poor attempt to turn the timeless art of good design into a recipe book. We shouldn't forget that the whole goal is to improve the lives of actual human beings.

Anonymous said...

LEED has also definitely been weighted to benefit new construction and overlook renovating existing buildings, or at least making it much more difficult than tearing down and starting anew. My cynical side wonders if it is more about justifying a new green construction industry than about actually being green.

CityKin said...

I have been following the thoughts of Steve Mouzon on this issue. He has a website called The Original Green. The premise is that traditional building methods (operable windows, durable construction methods, thick walls, traditional town planning) are often the most green. He refers to the rest a "gizmo green".

I think of this similarly to the "certified organic" rules, which are so cumbersome, small farmers cannot meet their guidelines. Buying something that is certified as organic or LEED Platinum is fine for what it is, but the buyer must always be aware of the full story.

Anonymous said...

The Green Cincinnati Plan INCLUDES a recommendation for:
Reduced consumption of meat in individual and institutional diets.

Have a look at:

Quimbob said...

Sounds like "organic" all over again.

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