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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