Green building is growing at an astonishing rate. With ‘green’ making its way into the mainstream, it is becoming increasingly common for energy efficiency, sustainability and environmental responsibility to symbolize the highest standards in work and materials.
However, the kind of halo effect that green labeling does lead to misrepresentation or misinterpretation of green credential, which in turn leads to greenwash.
While greenwashing in the early days of green building popularity was more overt, now it is far subtler.
One of the earliest and most ridiculous attempts at skirting true green measures was the argument that because carbon dioxide is a natural gas, it is actually a non-pollutant and could be good for us. Not surprisingly, this notion was generated by a veteran oil industry executive but it was frighteningly taken up by the controversial Republican member of the US House of Representatives Michele Bachmann.
“There isn’t even one study to show that carbon dioxide is a harmful gas, there isn’t one such study because carbon dioxide isn’t a harmful gas, it is a harmless gas,” said Bachmann. “Carbon dioxide is natural, it isn’t harmful.”
This kind of extreme greenwashing is to be expected and can be identified as such. Yet while the ridiculousness of such remarks is evident given the copious amount of research and hard facts that contradict them, it does not mean the ‘green sheen’ has disappeared.
Greenwashing has grown to include the idea of green copycats. Green copycats are industry members who take a green idea and offer a similar product without the underlying environmental offerings. A case in point is the current trend of shipping containers being used as structural elements of green buildings. The use of a recycled shipping container comes with a number of positive aspects, one of which is the low embodied energy that is contains when it is converted into a new space.
However, the trendiness of this design and development practice is leading to copycat manufacturers who, while not promoting their buildings as ‘green’, are capitalising on and benefiting from the link between shipping container constructs and environmentalism, even though their containers are not recycled and are developed for mass consumption.
Such subtle green copycats may not even promote themselves as being environmentally conscious, but connections are being made by those promoting and supporting them, and as the green sector expands, the lines between what could originally considered as truly environmentally responsible and what could not are changing leading to a new kind of labeling confusion.
This is not to shame the construction industry or businesses that are capitalizing on an association with one of this modern sector’s greatest trends. It is about asking questions about what is really going on with materials, technologies and developments and exploring the new standards, challenges and innovations that come from an evolved green sector.