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Written by Milan Clarke   
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Wednesday, 28 October 2009


The End is Near for Greenwashing…
Throughout the past couple of years, “Eco Products” have taken over. From soaps to computers to billboards, most companies look for a way to advertize their “green” efforts. While walking through an isle in the grocery store one afternoon, I wondered, are all these so called “eco products” true in their claims? My skepticism was validated when I found that many of these products miss-use the term “green,” and “eco,” and are committing the environmental sin known as green washing.

According to an environmental consulting firm, TerraChoice, an astonishingly low 2% of companies are truthful in their environmental claims. TerraChoice then notes, “[t]he remainder mislead consumers about the environmental benefits of a product or the practices of a company.” 1

With endless greenwashing, how can we tell what product is the result of truly good environmental ethics? The answer: indexes and plans are already being created by reputable sources to help stop greenwashing for good. Some of these major plans are Newsweek’s Environmental Rankings for America’s Top 500 Companies, and Walmart’s “Sustainability Index.”

Newsweek Magazine’s environmental ranking of America’s 500 biggest companies was not an easy feat. Attempting to create criteria and weight system required a number of experts and countless hours of research. After months of work, Newsweek finally completed a ranking system called the Environmental Impact Score or, EIS.

The EIS addressed many aspects of how they created the guidelines: “Four of the major elements that contribute to the overall EIS are: greenhouse gas emissions (including nine gases in total, with carbon dioxide the most important in many cases), water use (including direct, purchased and cooling), solid waste disposed, and acid rain emissions (sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and ammonia), all normalized by revenue.” 2

Some of the companies in the top 20 were Hewlett-Packard (1st), Johnson & Johnson (3rd), Nike (7th), Starbucks (10th), Sprint (15th), and Kohl’s (18th). There are many benefits to this report. The report, which can be purchased in full, gives very detailed information on each company and also breaks down the rankings by each industry. Some of the different categories are: Retail, Pharmaceuticals, Media/travel/leisure, Industrial Goods, Financial Services, and Oil and Gas.

This is especially helpful to the consumer. If a person wants to buy a computer from a company that practices good environmental ethics, they can use Newsweek’s report to find what the best company is and why. This is a step away from greenwashing because the consumer can get an idea of how to judge an environmentally ethical company using means other than the company’s own label.

For over a year now, Walmart has been developing an ambitious, comprehensive plan to measure the sustainability of each and every product they sell. Walmart calls this plan the “Sustainability Index” and plans on displaying it on labels within the next two years. Other companies that are involved in the “Sustainability Index” include Procter & Gamble, General Mills, Tyson, and Unilever, among others. Because Walmart is such an enormous entity grossing $408 Billion in 2008, the “Sustainability Index” has the potential to completely transform the way manufacturers of consumer products measure their environmental impact, and compete for favorable treatment from Walmart.3

Walmart’s other motivation to create the “Sustainability Index” is to teach the consumer how to judge a truly “green” product. Senior director of business strategy and sustainability at Wal-Mart, Rand Waddoups, notes: "We understand green-washing. [Our customer] doesn't. She [or he] may not even be aware that it's going on."4

Both Newsweek and Walmart have the power to control the fate of a product or company depending on how high it is ranked. Some critics wonder if Newsweek and Walmart have the right to take on such a powerful position. As someone who is concerned with waste, I believe that these indexes and rankings are reliable and for now may be the best way to ensure that consumers buy real “eco products,” ultimately limiting greenwashing.

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Last Updated ( Thursday, 10 February 2011 )


Green Facts

  • Americans throw away more than 120 million cell phones each year, which contribute 60,000 tons of waste to landfills annually.

  • 77% of people who commute to work by car drive alone.

  • Recycling aluminum saves 95% of the energy used to make the material from scratch.

  • Americans use 100 million tin and steel cans every day.

  • Every week about 20 species of plants and animals become extinct.

  • Rainforests are being cut down at the rate of 100 acres per minute.

  • A laptop consumes five times less electricity than a desktop computer.

  • Glass can be recycled over and over again without ever wearing down.

  • 82 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. come from burning fossil fuels.

  • You will save 100 pounds of carbon for each incandescent bulb that you replace with a compact fluorescent bulb (CFL), over the life of the bulb.

  • A steel mill using recycled scrap reduces related water pollution, air pollution, and mining wastes by about 70%.

  • Refrigerators built in 1975 used 4 times more energy than current models.

  • Recycling 100 million cell phones can save enough energy to power 18,500 homes in the U.S. for a year.

  • Less than 1% of electricity in the United States is generated from solar power.

  • The World Health Organization estimates that 2 million people die prematurely worldwide every year due to air pollution.

  • Current sea ice levels are at least 47% lower than they were in 1979.

  • Bamboo absorbs 35% more carbon dioxide than equivalent stands of trees.

  • Washing your clothes in cold or warm instead of hot water saves 500 pounds of carbon dioxide a year, and drying your clothes on a clothesline six months out of the year would save another 700 pounds.

  • You will save 300 pounds of carbon dioxide for every 10,000 miles you drive if you always keep your car’s tires fully inflated.

  • If every U.S. household turned the thermostat down by 10 degrees for seven hours each night during the cold months, and seven hours each weekday, it would prevent nearly gas emissions.

  • In California homes, about 10% of energy usage is related to TVs, DVRs, cable and satellite boxes, and DVD players.

  • One recycled aluminum can will save enough energy to run a 100-watt bulb for 20 hours, a computer for 3 hours, or a TV for 2 hours.

  • You’ll save two pounds of carbon for every 20 glass bottles that you recycle.

  • Plastic bags and other plastic garbage thrown into the ocean kill as many as 1,000,000 sea creatures every year.

  • A tree that provides a home with shade from the sun can reduce the energy required to run the air conditioner and save an additional 200 to 2,000 pounds of carbon over its lifetime.

  • For every 38,000 bills consumers pay online instead of by mail, 5,058 pounds of greenhouse gases are avoided and two tons of trees are preserved.

  • It takes 6,000,000 trees to make 1 year's worth of tissues for the world.

  • States with bottle deposit laws have 35-40% less litter by volume.

  • Americans throw away enough aluminum to rebuild our entire commercial fleet of airplanes every 3 months

  • American workers spend an average of 47 hours per year commuting through rush hour traffic. This adds up to 23 billion gallons of gas wasted in traffic each year.

  • A single quart of motor oil, if disposed of improperly, can contaminate up to 2,000,000 gallons of fresh water.

  • An aluminum can that is thrown away instead of recycled will still be a can 500 years from now!

  • Nudge your thermostat up two degrees in the summer and down two degrees in the winter to prevent 2,000 pounds of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere.

  • In the United States, automobiles produce over 20 percent of total carbon emissions. Walk or bike and you'll save one pound of carbon for every mile you travel.

  • Shaving 10 miles off of your weekly driving pattern can eliminate about 500 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions a year.

  • Due to tiger poaching, habitat destruction, and other human-tiger conflicts, tigers now number around 3,200—a decrease in population by about 70% from 100 years ago.

  • Turning off the tap when brushing your teeth can save as much as 10 gallons a day per person.

  • Recycling for one year at Stanford University saved the equivalent of 33,913 trees and the need for 636 tons of iron ore, coal, and limestone.

  • Recycling 1 million laptop computers can save the amount of energy used by 3,657 homes in the U.S. over the course of a year.