As more and more manufacturers and pros jump on the green bandwagon, the practice of “greenwashing”—in which a company exaggerates, intentionally or not, its eco-friendly claims—has become more prevalent. Originally, the term greenwashing was attached to companies and products that claim something is green when, in actuality, it is not green at all. During the past year, some claimed greenwashing when a company simply did not provide enough information, not necessarily that it provided false information. Greenwashing isn’t limited to manufacturers; builders and remodelers need to use care when describing their sustainability programs. To avoid being inaccurately labeled, pros should adopt transparency as a principle of operation. Share the details of your green building program and find opportunities to educate consumers about the work you are doing. Don’t just show them what you are doing that is green; be open about what you do not include.
The Jones Co., my former employer in Nashville, Tenn., started its green program last October. Jones did not claim to build the greenest home, rather the best value while keeping environmental and efficiency concerns at the forefront. If homeowners asked about geothermal heat or solar energy, the response was simple: these technologies would not allow Jones to keep its homes within the price range that is affordable to its customers.
As a company, Jones shared with its customers the reasons why certain features were included and why some green options were not. Whether you agreed with the decisions, Jones was not shy about sharing the details.
Blogger Mark Hannah recommends builders not merely “demonstrate transparency,” but rather resolve to simply “be transparent.” This means proactively telling consumers what you are doing to be green, what you want to do in the future, and what you are struggling to accomplish today. How refreshing would it be to see a blog on a builder’s site that not only talks about the great things the company is doing for the environment, but also petitions the help of its customers to learn to be even better?
It be great if companies could come out and say, “We are very energy efficient and have reduced consumption by 50%, but we are still working toward an effective recycling program. Any suggestions?”
Steve Bertasso is a 15-year veteran of the home building industry and has spent the last two years studying and implementing green building practices. Tennessee-based Bertasso is active in the sustainability community, including serving as a green building consultant, authoring a green building blog, writing op-ed pieces, and conducting training. He also is writing several books. Read his blog at http://thegreendecoder.blogspot.com/ and follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/greendecoder.