Simple steps to go green and put more green in your pockets!
Going green makes economic sense -Knowing what to watch for is key. Imagine yourself as a well-intentioned meeting planner who has worked for many months trying to organize the greenest event yet. You get pulled aside on opening day by one of your board members with observations about some “green” aspects you didn’t realize:
- Corn-based plastic cups, plates and silverware can’t be recycled with regular plastic.
- Soy inks are not biodegradable nor as energy efficient as either linseed or sunflower inks.
- Corn fiber textile lanyards can ONLY be made in one color (white), but your supplier sent black ones.
How can you avoid falling victim to unsubstantiated “green” marketing claims? Educate yourself about what is or is not good for the environment — and get the verification you need.
Why going green matters to our industry
The Environmental Protection Agency was established in 1970 to address the mounting environmental problems associated with our “throw-away society.” However, our industry was first made aware of its role as a major contributor to local landfills in the early ’90s when the exact tonnage sent to landfills after each large show held at the McCormick Convention Center in Chicago was made public.
In fact, our industry has been identified as the second-most polluting sector behind only the construction and demolition industry. Saddled with this dubious distinction, industry leaders are moving to change our reputation. Now, the “greening” of meetings has become a white-hot topic for every size of event across all of North America.
Making value-weighted purchasing decisions
The term “greenwashing” is a popular way to describe products marketed as environmentally friendly, when they are really not. A spin on the word “whitewashing,”
Greenwashing efforts can range from changing the name or label of a product to suggest the natural environment on a product that contains harmful chemicals to multimillion dollar advertising campaigns portraying highly polluting energy companies as eco-friendly. While greenwashing is not new, its use has increased over recent years to meet consumer demand for environmentally friendly goods and services. (www.en.wikipedia.org)
Reducing or eliminating greenwashing is everyone’s responsibility. Consumers must shoulder more of the responsibility to protect themselves, if for no other reason than so many marketers aren’t thinking far enough ahead when they make green claims.
What do you want to see?
Multiple-attribute claims: As you seek greener alternatives, make your list of preferential characteristics. Don’t settle for just one or two. The most respectable claims should incorporate impacts on the environment through every phase of a product’s life-cycle from the raw materials to the product disposal.
Research the company: More than the product, you also need to take in consideration the track record of the company. If the manufacturer is as clean as it claims to be or the other way around, you will be able to read it through the various reviews about them.
Test for international consistency: Check whether the company operates in different countries with different standards. Inquire if the operating standards are consistent or if they choose to mostly operate in countries with low standards. Likewise you can always refer to the ISO 14024 that give standards for developing environmental criteria for a particular product. Log on to www.ecolabelling.org for the list of compliant companies.
Test for access to information: Many companies will make false claims about their commitment in using environmental processes. One way to see if it’s true is to ask for a compliance certification. If a manufacturer cannot or will not provide a copy of the environmental standard or testing protocol, you might suspect the claim is only a marketing ploy. When you do get a copy of the standard from a supplier, review it carefully. Make sure it references appropriate environmental and performance standards. To make it easier, you can always rely to verifiers such as Ecologo, Green Seal and PR watch.
Whom do you trust?
Standards to look for in certifications should be those developed in an open, public, transparent process similar to the way that American National Standards Institute (ANSI), American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) and ISO or other organizations develop public standards. Remember: The burden of proof is not on you after you’ve requested the information. By then, you’ve given the supplier of the product every opportunity to prove its claims are genuine.
The consequences of unchecked green-washing
To the extent green-washing is left unchecked, the consequences will significantly reduce trust and motivation to do the right thing:
- Well-meaning buyers, like the hard-working event planner at the beginning of this piece, will be misled into purchasing products and services that don’t fulfill their environmental promises.
- Green-washing takes market share away from those truly environmentally conscientious and gives it to those with disingenuous green claims. That slows the introduction of truly legitimate products and reduces the beneficial impact on our environment.
- Prolonged, uncontrolled green-washing could build both business and consumer cynicism — enough to reject all environmental claims, even the valid ones. Ironically, those most apt to turn callous and critical are those who really care the most about real environmental progress. Without a market-driven, financial incentive for green product innovation, the only force left to drive the market will likely be government-imposed regulations.
Can the government help?
With the clamor for the truly environment friendly products, the Federal Trade Commission released the revised “Green Guides” in October 2012 to help marketers avoid making misleading environmental claims.
The revisions to the FTC’s “Green Guides” reflect a wide range of public input, including hundreds of consumer and industry comments on previously proposed revisions. They include updates to the existing Guides, as well as new sections on the use of carbon offsets, “green” certifications and seals, and renewable energy and renewable materials claims. (www.ftc.gov)
Honesty is still the best policy
There are many non-government organizations, like Consumers Union and Greenpeace that are aware and watching. Marketers who want to ride the green movement must be prepared to pay full fare — and live up to their claims when consumers hold up products for scrutiny.
Additional “Green” Resources
Single-attribute environmental standard setting and certification organizations are also available. If your goal is to focus on a single significant environmental issue, such as indoor air quality or recycled content, the following organizations are helpful:
- Forest Stewardship Council (www.fscus.org): certifies wood products obtained from sustainably harvested forests and uses a multi-attribute approach for preferable papers.
- Green-e (www.green-e.org): certifies sources of renewable electricity and renewable energy credits generated from clean energy sources such as wind, solar or small-scale hydro-electric power. It also certifies products manufactured in facilities using renewable energy
- GREENGUARD (www.greenguard.org): focuses exclusively on indoor air quality issues. Its Web site includes certified products in more than 15 different categories, from paint to baby cribs and mattresses to cleaning systems, flooring, adhesives, wall coverings, heating ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) ductwork, window treatments, countertops, tiles, cabinets and office furnishings. Today, over 120 manufacturers participate in the testing program with more than 150,000 certified products.
- WaterSense (www.epa.gov/WaterSense): certifies sources of showerheads, toilets, faucets, urinals, and valves.Likewise, there are also certification organizations for multi-attribute environmental standard:
- Scientific Material Content Certification (www.scsglobalservices.com): covers a wide range of products (carpets, textiles, wood products, insulations, etc.)
- Green Seal (www.greenseal.org): covers paints, adhesives, lamps, electric chillers, etc.)
- Cradle to Cradle (www.mbdc.com): covers range of sectors (metals, fibers, dyes, plastics)
- Greenguard (www.greenguard.org): certifies indoor air quality and schools
Other programs allow manufacturers to declare that their products meet a publicly available standard. Then they conduct random audits to maintain the integrity of the environmental declarations. Public standards also allow others to independently verify the accuracy of any claims:
- Energy Star Program (www.energystar.gov): establishes energy-efficiency criteria for a wide variety of products in more than 40 product categories. The site for this federal government program lists all of the products that meet Energy Star efficiency requirements. It also includes recommended purchasing specifications and online training resources.
- Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT, www.epeat.net): ranks computer desktops, laptops and monitors into EPEAT Bronze, Silver or Gold categories based on more than 50 environmental criteria. Currently, more than 600 products from 23 manufacturers are on the EPEAT registry.