5 Challenges Of Using A ‘Made With Renewable Energy’ Label

Eco-labels play a role in promoting renewable energy developments, like this wind farm in Washington State (CC Jeffrey G Katz, 2010)

I am going to start this post with a story. In 2005, an ex-employee and self-appointed ‘green’ vigilante accused sustainability-minded beer maker, New Belgium Brewery, of ‘greenwashing’. No company wants to hear that, especially a small business with green cred, one that publishes carbon footprints for its six-pack. The accusation – the Colorado-based brewery was misleading its customers with the claim that it is 100% wind-powered. The problem was two-fold. Firstly, the utility that New Belgium purchased its power from, switched buying from wind farms to purchasing carbon offsets. The second blow, and the more grievous of the two, was that producing, bottling and selling its Fat Tire beer was not powered entirely by renewable energy. The bottles, for example, are sourced from suppliers that use fossil fuels and require much more energy to produce than the beer itself. The ex-employee took these issues to the local media and got results. In 2011, New Belgium changed its message to ‘Wind Powered, Employee Owned’. The current message is ‘Alternately Empowered’, reflecting their inclusion of solar and bio-gas into their energy portfolio. Unfortunately for New Belgium, the scandal tarnished their green image for a long time.

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Retail Activism. Now, there is a phrase that instantly makes you feel guilty. Should you embrace the movement and risk look like a lightweight? Or worse, should you dismiss your credit card as a world-saving tool and zero in on cheap, cheaper, cheapest? After all, the only activism you should be involved in during shopping is trying to prevent the stores from suckering poor, innocent customers. Right? Well, if you are like me, shopping is no fun at all. You buy things, you hate them the moment you come home and feel terrible about the whole episode. Which is why I look for things that alleviate my guilt, allow me to think my cash can make a difference. I admit, retail activism appeals to me. Continue reading

“Made In USA” Claims: A Quick And Dirty Guide

“Made in USA”, Lupor Metal Products, NY (CC Joe M., 2007)

Have you ever bought a product because it said “Made in USA”? I have, because I believe in buying local. Because I hoped that my money would go towards creating jobs and help businesses grow, creating local economies that are largely self-supporting. I looked at the label that boldly stated that it was manufactured in this country and I trusted the company. Ah, the innocence! Little did I know that claiming to be “Made in USA” is a territory marked with loopholes, misinformation, ambiguous labeling and outright lies. “All-American” goods like Converse sneakers and Levi’s jeans are made overseas. Good old American cars are from Mexico. Coors is equal part Canadian, Brazilian and South African as it is American. New Balance is in hot water with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the advertising watchdog, for making “American Made” claims, as was Craftsman. The list is long and saddening. Continue reading

Holding Marketers Responsible For The 7 “Sins” of Greenwashing

FIJI Water sued in California for "greenwashing" (CC 2010 M Sundstrom)

Something very interesting is happening in Californian courts. In a class action suit filed in a District Court in Santa Ana, a group of individuals claim that the bottled water maker, FIJI Water Company, has been misleading customers by making false carbon offset claims. Their cause for complaint is that FIJI Water’s assertion that it makes a “carbon negative” product is blatantly untrue. “Carbon negative” would mean that FIJI removes more carbon from the atmosphere than they generate, which is based more on clever accounting than reality. In another case, SC Johnson, the household chemicals giant, was sued for placing a non-verified eco-label on their cleaning fluid, Windex. The label, Greenlist, created a false impression of being third-party approved when it was only meant for internal use. What links the two cases is that companies are being held accountable for false “green” claims, “eco” exaggerations and deceptive advertisements , otherwise known as “greenwashing”. Continue reading

Cradle To Cradle – (Almost) Ten Years Later

William McDonough and Michael Braungart (Copyright: MBDC)

Every field needs a celebrity. The environmental movement has long suffered its unwashed, off-grid, hippie image and needs all the glamor it can soak up. The closest to A-list celebrities that the tree hugger brigade have are William McDonough and Micheal Braungart. The duo came on the international scene with the publication of their ground-breaking book in 2002 and caught the attention of big business and governments with a simple yet powerful idea. Continue reading