Green Wednesday: Greenwashing, How Going Green Can Take A Bad Turn

From on July 23, 2008 in Green Remodeling

ecologo logo“Things aren’t always as they seem.” That ancient adage still rings true for so many things and, unfortunately, green building materials are no exception. In fact, often enough, just when you think you’re making a substantial move to go green it turns out that you are actually making a much larger footprint than you thought. With just a simple phrase or a fancy logo or seal, many companies are fooling homeowners into using products that are essentially no different than the volatile, unhealthy products of old.


The scam is called “greenwashing” and it is nothing new. However, in a sliding housing market, including the remodel sector, where the only component advancing is green building, more and more products are undeservedly claiming the green stamp of approval in an effort to take advantage of increasingly eco-minded consumers.

Misleading Product Labels

There are several ways in which companies may deceive or mislead the consumer. Sometimes a company will claim that their product is made from recycled materials. This may be true, but only for 5% to10% of the product. Up to 95% is first-use materials and likely to end up in a landfill. Or a product may use the infamous phrase “All Natural,” which includes chemicals like formaldehyde, or “CFC Free,” which is meaningless because no products have CFCs anymore. The chemical has long been banned.

Get to Know Your Products

Now this is no reason to mistrust everything at the grocery or hardware stores. This is a reason to get to know your products a bit better. It is important to know and understand all the ingredients in a product and to know its entire life cycle. For instance, concrete is often considered green but has hidden trade-offs. That is to say, it is durable, all natural, and recyclable but its main ingredient, cement, has a very heat-intensive production process, letting off high carbon emissions.

There are several different environmental ratings applied to products. However, not all look at the entire life cycle of the product. EcoLogo and Green Seal are two that do just that. You can also do your own research and develop your own standards. Every company is required to supply you with a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) upon request. Request one of these and you can learn everything there is to know about that product, from how it’s made to what’s in it and how to dispose of it. This way you can decide for yourself which products are green enough for you and move to really lower your home’s carbon footprint.

There are also resources online for the homeowner who feels they’re being greenwashed. was started by a homeowner who has been through the arduous process of truly going green. Thankfully, for all the sham products that are all-too-accessible, there are plenty that are truly green. It is just a matter of separating the laundry.


When Building Green Harms The Environment