Is the Claim to be Green a Lie?

May 17, 2011
By Arielle Blumen BRONZE, San Diego, California
Arielle Blumen BRONZE, San Diego, California
1 article 0 photos 0 comments

Both large and small companies are globally concerned they can prove they are eco-friendly for both financial and environmental reasons. However, this is becoming an arduous path to follow. These companies might desire to join the movement to be “green”, but the multi-faceted process of attaining and maintaining that status lessens their original aspiration to join the movement. Perhaps this is because there are no clear regulations to help them achieve this goal. How do we know if a company is really environmentally friendly? A company’s carbon footprint is one way to measure this.

It is in everyone’s best interests to develop a universal system to measure a carbon footprint. It would be a win-win financially and environmentally if there was a uniform way to do this. As it is now, different companies use different methods to measure their carbon footprint. One company might only take into account the things they are directly responsible for, such as energy used while manufacturing. Another company might weigh the impact of indirect emissions in their quest to be “green”. Raw materials, transport, and waste disposal are examples of indirect emissions. Without clarity, there is not enough incentive for a company to make the efforts to be eco-friendly. However, often the financial pressure for a company to be “green” is heavy. Hence, they choose the easiest way out, and rely on methods that make them appear environmentally friendly to the outside world, when they really are not.

In How can we tell which companies are really “green”?, David Ord opines that companies should be required to follow strict regulations to be considered “green”. For example, he discusses Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Protocol Corporate Reporting and Accounting Standard, developed by World Resources Institute (WRI) and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD). Both present deeper methods for measuring “greenness”. Presently, reporting emissions is still optional. Scope 1 emissions are direct emissions under the GHG protocol. Scope 2 emissions are indirect emissions, and easier to measure. Scope 3 emissions encompass a variety of indirect emissions, such as the effect of waste-water treatment, business travel, sourcing raw materials, produce use and end-of-life disposal. It is just as important to accurately measure Scope 3 emissions when evaluating whether a company is eco-friendly. Emma Stewart is an environmental consultant who refers to Scope 3 emissions as “the elephant in the room.” This is because Stewart believes companies choose the easiest way to measure how “green” they are as opposed to how “green” they appear.

Capital Gold Group, a gold investment company, claims to be “green”. They sell their clients physical gold and precious metals. They are a sustaining member of Global Green USA. Their efforts include recycling office supplies and keeping printing to a minimum. They also electronically image, shred and recycle archive documents. The company’s goal is to be entirely paperless. Does this mean they are “green”? Although the product they sell is eco-friendly, after interviewing Lara Blumen, an employee of Capital Gold Group, I determined ample evidence does not exist to prove they are entirely “green”. The company’s efforts to go paperless are contained within their work environment, and not extended to their customers.

David Ord discusses in his article the need for universal regulations so that a company, such as Capital Gold Group, has standards to follow in order to be recognized as a company making the effort to be eco-friendly. David Ord says that, “Mechanisms for monitoring and coordination are still lacking, and the debate continues as to whether the scope of such mechanisms should be global, regional or domestic”. Additionally, mechanisms for monitoring energy waste will need to be different for different companies. For example, a factory building will have more intricate energy emission concerns than a small company. Consequently, more detailed regulations apply to them. Smaller companies, on the other hand, may not have a complete understanding of how to track their energy waste.

As Ord states in his article, “The Carbon Disclosure Project was established in 2000 in an attempt to help set up a standardized process of benchmarking—it now holds the world’s largest database of corporate climate change information”. The CDP’s questionnaires are long and involved. The questionnaires are answered more often by larger companies. In Capital Gold Group’s defense, small companies like themselves lack the same ability as larger companies to collect the data. Climate change is not as much as a priority for a smaller company, whose financial success relies predominately on produce sales. The interviewee from Capital Gold Group was unaware of any regulations they must follow or questionnaires they must answer to be eco-friendly.

It is easy for companies to advertise being environmentally friendly, even if they don’t follow the regulations. This is called greenwashing. Greenwashing is when companies claim products are environmentally friendly, and cover up this lie with words such as natural, non-toxic, and biodegradable. The competition between companies to sell environmentally friendly products has increased greenwashing. TerraChoice is an environmental marketing firm that developed the Seven Sins of Greenwashing report, which analyzes a manufacturer’s sincerity to be “green”. These sins are outlined in the article “Greenwash taints most ‘eco-friendly’ claims”. The report cited sins as follows; the hidden trade-off, lack of proof, vagueness, irrelevance, lesser of two evils, and fibbing. The article states, “The 2009 report added a seventh, the sin of worshipping false labels: ‘exploiting consumers’ demand for third-party certification by creating fake labels or false suggestions of third party endorsements”.

Companies are faced with the dilemma of following regulations. This is a problem because the standards of truly being “green” are so difficult to uphold. They must know which regulations to follow before claiming with certainty they are eco-friendly. The consumer is faced with reading between the lines to determine if a company’s claim to be “green” is honest and true. “Green” is very vague, so even a company’s sincere efforts to be “green” can result in a vague conclusion. Fred Pearce attacks vagueness in “The great green swindle”. The author attempts to increase awareness if something is “suspiciously ‘green’ or greenwash”. Pearce looks for proof to back up a study. He uses direct evidence instead of “green” images, significant research, and avoids completely ridiculous statements.

With too many ways for a product or corporation to appear “green” to the outside world, it is important that consumers demand proof. Such proof can come in the form of evidence and/or willingness by a company to go the extra mile to help the environment. Lush, a bath products company, is an organization that goes the extra mile by using minimal packaging and donates money to anti-road groups. Lush products are beneficial to the consumer and the environment, and do not produce waste. Additionally, information on their efforts to be “green” is readily accessible on their website and in e-mails to their customers.

It is almost impossible, without a strong enough system in place, to measure carbon footprinting so that a company may be confident enough to call itself “green”. Large companies are making sincere efforts to adhere to the guidelines and regulations pushed by David Ord in his article. They measure their gas emissions, including Scope 1, Scope 2 and Scope 3, the most indirect of all emissions. Smaller companies are at a greater loss when left to figure out for themselves what process they must follow to be part of the “green” movement. Awareness is strong in the movement to be “green”, but how to universally achieve it is fraught with vagueness. It is understood that being environmentally friendly is important from a financial and environmental standpoint. It is ironic that in our efforts to be eco-friendly, we may have reached a point where the lack of a specific set of standards, or in some cases, standards that are too high, have left us directionless. Most likely, the cost to implement the same rules for everyone to follow, and the methods to enforce those rules will be prohibitive. Therefore, when possible, companies must make their sincerest efforts to be green and avoid greenwashing. The day when we will live in an entirely “green” environment is, unfortunately, too far in the future to see.

The author's comments:
I was assigned in my history class to write an opinion editorial about a topic we are interested in. I chose to write about the fact that companies claim to be eco-friendly, but are not.

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