I've suspected this for awhile, but someone finally went out and proved it: No one has the foggiest notion of what “green” really means. We all have a vague idea, and we like the idea of “buying green,” but when pressed, could you really explain green? Do you even know what trade regulators think green is?
- Beyond the assumption that the term “green” indicates environmentally preferable attributes, the term is quite vague and subject to multiple interpretations depending on any number of factors, including local, national, and international business practices; market structures; societal norms; politics; and government regulations. In fact, due to the ambiguity surrounding the term, some government guidelines even discourage use of it altogether.
For all its faults, at least RoHS is explicit about what it is banning.
The gist of the whitepaper is that the term “green” has been misused by marketing firms and the media:
- Complicating matters is the widespread use of terms like “natural,” “organic,” “planet-friendly,” “earth friendly,” “ecological,” “non-toxic,” “biodegradable,” “plant-based,” “chlorine-free,” and “100 percent compostable,” which consumers erroneously assume are synonymous with “green.”
Guilty as charged.
As it turns out, a number of countries are taking a stab at defining green. For the record, the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issued its “Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims,” also referred to as the “Green Guides” or “Guides,” to help marketers ensure that the claims they make are true and substantiated. The Green Guides were revised in 1996 and again in 1998 and included the following:
- General principles that apply to all environmental marketing claims
- Guidance on how consumers are likely to interpret particular claims and how marketers can substantiate those claims
- Tips on how marketers can qualify their claims to avoid deceiving consumers
The reason green-washing scares me is two-fold: First, we all use the terms “green,” “sustainable,” and “environmentally friendly” loosely; and second, people, corporations, and governments are making buying decisions around “green.” If you are going to place a substantial amount of your company's money into something, whether it's components or investment funds, you should at least know what you are getting.
The AQS whitepaper defines the various terms; cites law; and provides a ton of reference materials on all things green. I'm going to keep the link handy for future reference.