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Greenwashing

paintbrush greenwashing industrial buildings

With more and more people bringing environmental considerations into their purchasing decisions, more and more companies hide negatives, exaggerate and lie about the environmental benefit of their products. A UL division, TerraChoice, determined that c. 95% of all U.S. products claiming environmental benefits made misleading environmental claims.1 The word, "sustainability", has even become suspect. The core of greenwashing revolves around deception: pretending that a company mission is protecting the environment while in reality it's just causing more pollution, exaggerating a small benefit into a big one, making claims without proof, or blatantly lying.

We started using "Sustainable" in our name in 2001, but for at least 25 years before that "helping to create a more sustainable world" stood as our foundational mission statement. Beginning in the 1970's, we pioneered sustainable products like solar modules, wind and hydro systems, drip irrigation, compact fluorescent and LED lighting, etc. - long before they became popular, because we believed they could help further that mission, not as a way to sell more products. In those days, these products sold extremely slowly. From a conventional business point of view, we were crazy to spend time and money promoting them. We did it because we believed in them and thought that eventually they could help make a big difference.

Another greenwashing keynote became watching for consumer concern about an environmental issue and then imagining and advertising a false link to a false benefit from a product they were already selling. We've taken the opposite approach - when we see an environmental problem, we look for products and systems that could help solve it. If we can't find something, we try to invent something new.

We have over 200 products that evolved this way. The latest, our new Gravity Irrigation Kit, came about this summer when so much news about record-breaking heat waves all across the planet coincided with new scientific studies2 linking soil moisture with ambient air temperatures. They show how much keeping more moisture in the soil can lower temperatures, prevent or at least mitigate heat waves. In general, the faster water comes down, the more it runs off, the less water goes directly into the ground, and the more likely flooding and erosion occur. Go out after what seems like a hard rain and scratch the surface. Often the soil will only be wet much less than 1/2" down. This new kit normally uses about 1/2 gallon a day to water 6 plants. A typical drip system uses 1 gallon per hour to water one plant. Flood, center pivot, sprinkler and hand irrigation normally use many times more water than drip.

Greenwashing also includes some good news. If people didn't care about the environmental consequences of goods and services, companies wouldn't lie and pretend about it. Sometimes pretending can start an authentic process of becoming. And sometimes using the word "Sustainable" is genuine and the opposite of greenwashing.

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