Category Archives: greenwashing

Time to rethink (not re-tinker with) sustainability #BAD09

Oh what a web we have weaved on our route to sustainability. And while we seek sustainable construction and head towards zero carbon homes, are we not in real danger of creating an industry that is in itself not sustainable or resilient?

We have spent a huge amount on sustainability technology, on green marketing, of time and energy in defining zero this or that, sustainable ‘everything’, and yet carbon emissions from buildings have increased, we do not have a workable definition or solution to existing bldgs, and despite site waste management plans DEFRA recently claimed that one third of solid materials arriving at the site gate are not used for the ordered purpose.

Given the opportunity  to blog for Blogging Action Day (BAD09) on climate change, we need raise the call to rethink construction, rethink facilities management and rethink design. Not in the now overused and redundant ‘rethinking’ as in tinkering with, hiding behind a thin veneer, but as in the Einstein “we can not solve todays problems with the thinking that got us here in the first place.”

25 years ago the Brundtland Commision definition of sustainable development called for actions that would not compromise future generations. Here we are a generation or so on, and I would bet that nearly every sustainable policy or statement echos or repeats the Brundtland definition. And yet we have compromised todays generation and continue in our actions that will compromise future generations.

Many sources have stated that our built environment sector consumes 40% of materials and contributes 40% of carbon emissions and waste. Not a record to be proud of.

Worst: we think we are addressing sustainability because we have greenwashed our products, our services and our actions.

We are on the cusp of needing radical actions to met forecast climate changes, being neutral may no longer be acceptable,. We may look back and regret the investments and industry we set up to manage and recycle waste, rather than investing in eliminating waste. We will regret our inactions on really moving the sustainability agenda forward since Brundtland.

Positive development, not neutral or zero, needs to surface as the new mantra on our sustainability agenda.

And stealing the words from construction excellence blog yesterday.

“If current leaders are not up to the task, they should as a minimum support the next generation who appear to understand the issues”


Be2camp Manifesto: Towards an open resilient sustainable and collaborative built environment

Positive Development

Understand and Preventing Greenwash

defining zero carbon – more clarifications (for homes at least)

On Wednesday I sat in on a Zero Carbon Hub consultation event relating to the defining-zero-carbon-homes-presentation2zero carbon definition  for buildings. I did manage to send some tweets via twitter during the session, and here, I have pulled these together to give a view on the consultation paper.

The event was not quite what I was expecting, as confusingly although the document out or consultation is entitled Definition of Zero Carbon Homes and Non Domestic Buildings, it doesn’t, Neil Jefferson head of the Hub informed us, cover Non Domestics – a separate consultation is expected soon.

Key to the proposal and principles are three elements expressed in the pyramid:


There is so much thinking, science , technology and even politics behind this hierarchy that isn’t (imho) expressed in the paper, but was covered in the slides from the session, handed out on USB drive and from here : defining-zero-carbon-homes-presentation2

Some interesting thoughts:

As to the rate of homes being built to CSH 6 (zero carbon) the following profile helps to explain the anticipated progress to 100% post 2016:


The aspirational target is a UK version of the German PassivHaus concept.  (as Denise Chevin mentions in Building Its principles are simple – the best way to go low carbon is to build a well-insulated, airtight envelope that is nice to live in. It also comes with a copper-bottomed pedigree, with thousands of completed buildings over its 17-year history.)

Nearly 50% present at event were developers and contractor and saw the on site achieving of standards as most demanding aspect of zero carbon. (Cost and quality) 

Will allowable solutions be just another complex carbon off-setting scheme? Could offsite allowances mean business as usual for designers / developers / builders ?  although 2/3 of those present thought that offsite renewables should n0t be included within carbon compliance.

New build house projects to (could?) decarbonise existing housing stock – this is an exciting new idea but received low interest in terms of potential (votes) from those present 

And as to who should monitor and police zero carbon?  Given three options ( Local Planning Authority/ Building Control Bodies/New form of accredited body) those present opted for c, New form of accredited body.

from brightgreen: how to use environmental leaders

Last Friday Bright Green Talent posted this excellent five point guide:

Dreadlocks, demonstrations and duck ponds – What does today’s environmentalist look like?

What are the characteristics of these environmental leaders and how can you use them to drive your business forward?

1. Big minds: Environmental leaders have a history of excellence in everything they do. Graduating from the top universities, they are aspirational, yet practical. They are naturally drawn to complex problems that span science, economics and society.

2. Learners, not cogs: Don’t expect an environmental leader to become another cog in an organisational machine. They are here to learn and to make a difference. They flourish in small organisations, visionary
consultancies and larger organisations with a big mandate for change.

Continue reading

bloggers greenwash kit

Thanks to Mel over at Elemental for pointing out the Greenwash Guide (pdf) at Futerra – very timely as I prepare for a workshop today. 

Three even easier steps for
communications agenci

Now we have the 10 signs of greenwash, Six Steps to avoid Greenwash, a Greenwash Healthcheck  and 3 even easier steps for communication agencies, the original  six greenwash sins,  and greenwash misleading adverts regulations.

bloggers uncover greenwash

A new Nielsen Online report, Sustainability through the Eyes and Megaphones of the Blogosphere, argues that firms that are guilty of overstating their green credentials are being routinely uncovered by bloggers.

Bloggerskepticism is the cost of entry to play the green game

Bloggers are a new form of investigative reporter who doggedly pursue the facts

See also greenwash sins and greenwash index

a real school for the future – without eco-bling

Education Guardian reports today on the development of Acharacle School on the Ardnamurchan peninsula in Scotland.  The report by Tariq Tahir, should make ‘essential ‘ reading for those involved in school design, construction and in community assets. In addition the school childrens blog ‘they are building outside our class‘ illustrates how construction can be a real educational benefit.  One to RSS and watch develop.

And with no eco-bling, no greenwash, this is sustainable development…

The design, illustrating a sustainable future, for two or three generations is based on the use of mass-timber.  Architect Howard Liddel from Gaia comments … “the modern school does what it says on the tin but what it has on the tin is a skull and crossbones, and these are toxic fumes. Modern buildings have huge amounts of formaldehyde coming out of the floor coverings, seat coverings, the walls run with condensation.”

“What this project is doing is ticking a lot of boxes in a very subtle manner. There’s no covering the building in ‘eco-bling’ – the gimmicks people put on to make buildings green. It’s really quite liberating for an architect.”

He promised that the new building would provide a much healthier working environment for the staff and 50-odd pupils. “We have an immense problem with toxic materials in buildings – we have 55,000 chemicals we use in building and only 3% of them have been tested for their effects on humans.

“The timber is very good at dealing with indoor moisture passively. In other words, you don’t need a ventilation system when you’ve actually got a material that’s dealing with the moisture. Continue reading

Arup pick up greenwasher of the year award

Arup and the Dongtan project has received much ranting on the Ethical Corporation (EC) website over the year so no surprises that they pick up the EC Greenwasher of the Year award .  This for the ... long announced, but never started, ‘eco-city’ in Dongtan, an island of pristine wetlands just outside the teeming city of Shanghai … more

Another EC award – which I would call the No Giraffes Killed This Year award goes to the Mercedes ….

The company’s “head of motorsport”, which provides engines to the Formula One McLaren team, told various news websites that the sport could be defended on the basis that the millions of people watching Formula One races on television were therefore not using their cars while the race was under way.

Now, looking at the greenwash sins checklist ….. Sins of Vagueness and Irrelevance nicely covered there

Any nominations closer to home?

poor building performance fuels coal demand – Ffos-y-fran

Coal is back in the news today … from the Guardian:

Around 30 climate activists and local residents this morning took mass direct action to prevent excavation work on Britain’s biggest ever open-cast coal mine at Ffos-y-fran in South Wales, (… timed to coincide with the Bali conference)

Climate protester, Tim Helweg-Larsen, said: “Coal is the filthiest fuel known to man and projects like this mine could destroy all our chances of tackling global warming. The battle over this hilltop in Wales is a fight for the stability of the global climate and it epitomises this government’s hypocrisy on climate change.”

When burned, this amount of coal will emit more than 30m tonnes of carbon dioxide.

More than 10,000 local people petitioned against the pit, the edge of which will be just 36 metres from people’s homes.

Merthyr resident, Leon Stanfield, said: “We’ve protested this mine in all the conventional ways. Now we’re turning to direct action as a last resort. This project is wrecking both the local and the global environment and is putting the health of our community and its children at risk.”

Miller Argent says it appreciates the concerns expressed by some (sic) local residents. Once works are commenced it said it would be able to ensure that the concerns of the local community are met.

(MillerArgents newsletter to keep people up to date with progress seems to have stalled at Issue 01 back in the Summer – which greenwash sin is this I wonder?)

But on a wider issue: Continue reading

spot the greenwashing sins

Greenwashing is a common theme on this blog and a topic I keep an igoogle eye on.  Along with carbon offsetting, green-washing can be seen as unnecessary distractors, distracting energy and focus away from the real task in hand of sustainability and ‘greening’ the built environment industries.

It was then good to note a recent report from TerraChoice,  Six Sins of Greenwashing.

The research looked at 1,018 products making 1,753 claims. And although the products studied included a wide range of offerings, from air fresheners to appliances, televisions to toothpaste, the conclusions are typical of all green advertising.  Worryingly of those products, all but one made claims that are either demonstrably false or that risk misleading intended audiences.

The sins provide a good guide to ‘testing’ claims made by companies and or advertisements.

Happy spotting.   In fact isite will start a rogues gallery of greenwash  sins, relevant to the built environment industry – watch this space for a related blog space.  In the meantime if you spot any blatant greenwash – please leave details in the comments below.

The sins:

Sin of the Hidden Trade-Off--(made by 57 percent of all environmental claims examined)  claims that suggest a product or company is “green” based on a single environmental attribute (the recycled content of paper, for example)
Sin of No Proof (26%)–any claim that couldn’t be substantiated by easily accessible supporting information, or by a reliable third-party certification.

Sin of Vagueness (11 %)–any claim that is so poorly defined or broad that its real meaning is likely to be misunderstood by the intended consumer, such as “chemical free” or “all natural.”

Sin of Irrelevance (4 %)–claims that may be truthful but are unimportant and unhelpful for consumers, such as CFC-free products, since ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons have been outlawed since the late 1980s.

Sin of Lesser of Two Evils (1%)–environmental claims that may be true, but that risk distracting the consumer from the greater environmental impacts of the category as a whole, such as organic cigarettes.

Sin of Fibbing (<1%)- claims that are simply false, typically by misusing or misrepresenting certification by an independent authority, when no such certification had been made.

Greenwash Definition: Greenwash  is a term that is used to describe the actions of a company, government, or other organization which advertises positive environmental practices while acting in the opposite way.

The term is generally used when significantly more money or time has been spent advertising being green , rather than spending resources on environmentally sound practices. This is often portrayed by changing the name or label of a product, to give the feeling of nature, for example putting an image of a forest on a bottle of harmful chemicals.Links:


Joel Makower 

Triple Bottom Line 

Greenwashed again

A recent survey by Chatsworth Communications of the FTSE 100 green ‘claims’ reveals that top organisations are going green to protect brand and image rather than any concern for the environment.  Over 1200 ‘opinion formers’ from across the UK were asked views on the FTSE 100 green claims as part of the Green Winners and Green Washers Survey

Of course this wouldn’t be the case for organisations within the built environment sector … would it?

From the surveys press release

The results reveal increasing cynicism as to whether UK business is leading on environmental  issues out of a genuine desire to protect the environment or if this is just greenwash aimed at creating an eco-friendly corporate image.

• The main motivation for UK companies to adopt green policies is to protect their reputation (27%) followed by consumer pressure (20%) and good business sense (18%)
• Only 1% believe genuine concern for the environment is the key driver for UK companies to adopt green policies
• Marks & Spencer (45%) and HSBC voted the top green winners – the companies making
the most genuine green effort
• BP, Tesco and British Airways considered to be most guilty of ‘greenwash’ by respondents
• BP, Tesco and Marks & Spencer have the highest profile and most effective green publicity campaigns in terms of coverage
• Majority of respondents (75%) believe it is better for big business to own up where they are not green and show willing to make any changes

Nick Murray-Leslie, Director, Chatsworth Communications comments: “The views of the people polled influence millions of consumers across the UK, who will ultimately vote with the purchasing decisions they make.

(original lead from Edie)