Greenwash and Eco-bling

No bling - we did our sums first

No bling – we did our sums first

A few years ago (wearing my ‘professional ecologist’ hat) I attended a meeting with other professionals about a development being undertaken by a housing association. One of the aims was to achieve a green accreditation – The Code for Sustainable Homes. There was much discussion about eco-building materials, insulation and all sorts of other ‘hidden’ features before we got on to discussing the more visible features. And it was at this point I first encountered the term ‘eco-bling’. You can easily understand what it means: those showy things that look good but serve little purpose. Water butts that simply divert water but whose contents are never used; wind turbines that generate so little electricity it will take hundreds of years for them to pay for themselves let alone offset the embodied energy; inappropriately sited solar panels.

The Guardian has suggested that eco-bling is “more about showing off environmental credentials to neighbours than saving carbon”. Well what do you expect from ‘bling’? But this really is a cynical view – it may be that some people only pay for eco-features for show, but I think most individuals who install renewables probably do so because they think that either these measures will save them money and/or they are doing something to reduce carbon emissions and our reliance on fossil fuels. I’m sure that many people (individuals or companies) have done the maths and are making choices for sound reasons – the same may not be true for developers wanting to convince you to buy their houses, or governments wanting you to vote for them.

Indeed, there is a lot of ‘greenwash‘ out there… and it mainly seems to be used for marketing. We can all be more sustainable by simply buying less stuff – goods that never get made have no environmental impact. But when we do need to make a purchase, I think it’s important to look behind the claims. In some ways I have more respect for a product that is honest and makes no claims about green credentials than one that spouts how eco-friendly it is when closer inspection reveals something quite different. And I accept that it can be difficult to find goods that are completely environmentally sound and/or ethical (and remember that depends on your own ethics too), but I really object to being duped.

What I want is honesty – I want to buy from a company who are up-front about their products, working conditions, raw materials, energy sources etc. At least that way I can make informed decisions and it might save me hours of internet research too!

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10 Comments

  1. A reasonable eco-enviro viewpoint… at last someone echoes my thoughts. Buy this, install that… Eco-bling indeed.
    Our modest 3 bedroom single living area house in the country is what I consider eco. It is constructed with weatherboards, iron and fibro aka asbestos which is safe insitu and a great insulator.
    It has 10 foot ceilings with high vents, wide verandahs, north-east aspect, pitch roof with heaps of space, is built on stumps so the air circulates underneath, is carpeted despite the trend for polished wood floors, has modest windows (with curtains, blinds & awnings) but doors opening onto the verandah, rainwater tanks only, septic toilet, safe water drains onto garden which surrounds and shades it. This, and rain is the only water the garden receives. We added a few basic extras – ceiling insulation (free, courtesy of gov’t scheme), whirlybirds in the roof, ceiling fans, small wood fire.
    But, none of this will make anyone any money. It is modestly furnished mostly second hand and we don’t have heaps of appliances and every new thing going. One day we will add chooks and a productive garden.
    The house was built in the 1930’s…

    Reply
    • Your house sounds brilliant. I am a big fan of curtains and carpets, collecting rainwater for all garden needs and using resources sensibly. But, like you say, none of those things make money for big corporations, so you don’t hear much about them!

      Reply
  2. I can’t understand why every new house isn’t built with some sort of solar add-on, whether it’s PV panels, heat pump or a hot water system, why every new house doesn’t collect rainwater for laundry and toilet flushing, and why every new house doesn’t have loads of insulation, whether it’s to keep out cold or heat. Yes, it’ll make them more expensive in the short term, but much, much cheaper to run long term…

    Reply
    • Water is a great concern to me – I cannot understand why we need to flush toilets with water that has been processed (using lots of energy). We never use mains water for our toilet, but collect rainwater and fill the cistern manually with that, In the summer, if we are getting short of rain water, we collect the water from showers and the washing machine. We do it in a low-tech way, but this sort of water collection and use could easily be automated in a new build. Sadly, as EllaDee suggested, it doesn’t make money for businesses in the long-run so seems not to have a place in our ‘advanced’ societies.
      Civil disobedience really is flushing the toilet with rain water!!

      Reply
      • In which case, there are a lot of disobedient people in Australia, where water is very, very short. But then, I’d expect nothing less of Australians! When I lived in Melbourne, which was on permanent water restriction, I used to shower standing in a tub to collect water to flush the toilet, and the washing machine pumped out into a tub on wheels, which I then steered out into the garden to water everything that wasn’t edible. Up here, we get so much water that activities like that are pointless, but we do have solar hot water and insulation.

        Reply
  3. Eco bling, I love that! There are so many things people can do that aren’t fashionable or easy, like reusing washing water, but the shiny things like solar panels are the things people put up to make themselves feel better. They live a kind of lazy green don’t they, hmmmm something more of a mould rather than consciously green! 😉

    Reply
    • The link in the post about wind turbines is to a story about the new Welsh Government offices near us. They spent £48,000 on a flashy little wind turbine, which has generated electricity to the value of £5.28 a month since it was installed. Just goes to show what people spend money on when it’s not their own!

      Reply
  4. hooray for green, be it bling or nay!

    Reply

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