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Max Tober

100058963

01/12/2011

1740 words

A

G
REENWASHED
S
OCIETY



In a province that prides itself on being eco
-
friendly, there seems to be an
overwhelming amount of greenwashing in business a
nd politics.

Although,
British Columbia is
one of the most driven provinces when it comes to making green

initiatives
, many of those said
initiatives are greenwashed
.

In early 2011, the provincial government placed a ban on 75
-
watt
and 100
-
watt light bulbs in order to promote the
mercury filled
,

yet somehow
eco
-
friendly,
compact fluorescent lamps.

In addition
, the end of 2012 will bring smart meters to British
Columbian homes,
which will increase billing on energy consumption at peak periods
, to deter
people from turning on their lights, stoves, and furnaces
.
Lastly
, Yellow Pages has taken it upon
themselves t
o
reward businesses

with exclusive advertising

for greenwashing their motivations
.
All of theses initiatives

seem eco
-
friendly when plainly stated

on websites or censored articles
,
but they are all obvious examples

of greenwashing in our society.


Greenwas
hing is an “expression of environmentalist concerns

. . .

as a cover for
products, po
licies, or activities” (Merriam
-
Webster). The term was first used in 1986 by a New
York Biologist and environmentalist, Jay Westerveld, in an essay that accused industrie
s of
“adopting outwardly green acts” to cover up underlying agendas (
“The Futurist”
). In particular,
he criticised the hotel industry for encouraging guests to reuse their towels from the day before
in order to preserve fresh water. However, Westerveld so
on discovered that
hotels were
extending the truth and the towel policy was

actually

intended to reduce cleaning expenses.
Consequently, consumers have become

increasingly sceptical of green labels and advertising.
According to TerraChoice, an environmen
tal marketing consultancy, 31% of green cleaning
products in Canada are too vague about how they are eco
-
friendly. In addition, TerraChoice
states that “

natural’ is a vague claim that does not translate to ‘healthy’ or ‘environmentally
friendly’”
since naturally occurring elements like mercury and arsenic are highly toxic
(qtd.

“The
Futurist”
)
.

This blatant misuse of the word “natural” embodies greenwashing in its pures
t form.
It is a superficial display of environmental
concern
based on weak claim
s that are not bounded
in rationality.


On January 1, 2011, residents of Victoria began hoarding 75
-
watt and 100
-
watt
incandescent light bulbs as a result of a ban enacted by the provincial government. The
intention was to phase out some of the competition

for the substitute
,

compact fluorescent
lights or CFLs.

According to the policy makers, CFLs are much more energy efficient and safe
than incandescent lights.

They justify a higher per unit price with a 10,000 hour life span at a
significantly lower watta
ge. However, they neglect to properly assert the health risks involved
in switching over to a light bulb that c
ontains mercury. The Canadian Medical Association
Journal

reports that “the average compact fluorescent blubs contains 5 milligrams of mercury,”
a
small amount of liq
uid metal to be concerned about some would argue.
As most enthusiasts
would agree, the claim that CFLs are a health risk is largely exaggerated and is likely a complaint
made by upset consumers.
In contrast, those who force CFLs upon t
he market with ultimately
green intentions fail to see the potential for environmental damage when millions of bulbs
containing mercury

end up in landfills. This concept
exemplifies the conflict regarding

the eco
-
friendliness of these
light bulbs. If there is a potential for mercury poisoning
of water sources

then CFLs are not truly a green product. They may be “greener” in the sense that they save
more electricity that incandescent bulbs, but the also pose a considerable threat to the
environment.


The provincial government is greenwashing the facts surrounding compact fluorescent
lamps.
They
largely ignore the

true environmental effects that go along with the disposal of
CFLs.
P
oliticians
want to
detract public attention away from thos
e concerns by taking facts out
of context to suit their

aggressive green

campaign
s
.

5 milligrams may seem like a harmless
amount of mercury, but when multiplied by the amount of bulbs required to light BC’s homes
for a year, it becomes a substantial enviro
nmental hazard.

Policy markers

are
trying to strong
arm

the market
by banning incandescent

bulbs and
making CFLs the only option
.

In comparison
to incandescent bulbs, the apparent strengths of compact fluorescent lights are not without
some weaknesses
, mak
ing them a substitute and not a replacement.

The provincial government
should not force their so called green initiatives upon British Columbians.

Statistics show that
approximat
ely 67% of locals believe that

“environmental actions are an important
conside
ration when deciding where to shop,”

yet consumers choose to hoard incandescent
light bulbs

instead of
accepting

CFLs

(
Ipsos NA)
. Is it because they realize the government is
greenwashing a product that does

not

deserve the eco
-
friendly praise it receives?


In the near future
BC Hydro will attempt to switch all British

Columbian homes over to
the

S
m
art Meter P
rogram. The goal is to achieve higher electrical efficiency on an aging power
grid
with sustainability
in mind. Despite public
objections
, the provinc
ial government insists the
p
rogram will continue as planned
,

encouraged by

the general acceptance of Smart Meters
internationally.
However, many

locals

choose to resist this seemingly green i
n
it
i
ative, claiming
it
will

affect

billing on energy consumption.

Customers are particularly troubled by the notion
that Smart Meters will charge them by time
-
of
-
use.
BC Hydro explains that the new meters will
allow them to monitor household energy consumption more accurately, t
hus benefitting the
environment.

In contra
st, The B
C Public Advocacy Centre
suggests
, “smart meters are dumb,
and will
add
8.3% to your BC Hydro bill” (
Bill Tieleman
). They insist that Smart Meters are an
attempt by the government and
BC Hydro
to charge the public into using less electricity
. In
other words, they want to bill people extra for energy consumption even with reasonable
justification such as cooking, heating, or lighting. Moreover, numerous
complaints

have been
made
about
health issues

related to the recent installation of some Sm
art Meters.

Some have
claimed that the electromagnetic fields created by the meters can be damaging to those with
hypersensitivity, but no conclusive research has been acknowledged by the provincial
government or BC Hydro.

According to

the

BC Hydro

website
, the
y

intend to install 1.8
-
million
Smart Meters in British Columbia by the end of 2012.


Following the trend of compact fluorescent lights, it appears that Smart Meters are
subject to greenwashing by the government and BC Hydro respectively. They
saturat
e the
controversial topic in eco
-
friendly rhetoric in an attempt to draw public attention away from
the underlying motivation of making money.
The proposal that

Smart Meters

can
lower energy
consumption

is made to justify more extensive billing on electric
ity.

Most of the major energy
consuming devices in a household

can be classified as either

necessities of life or luxuries
people refuse

to live without, meaning
customers will

just pay more for e
nergy rather than
consume less.


As previously mentioned, greenwashing is a superficial display of concern for the
environment in order to conceal certain underlying agendas. It is used to extend the truth and
fabricate eco
-
friendly motivations where none
are

intended. Several months ag
o, a
representative from Yellow Pages contacted local business owner, Ralph Tober, and suggested
that he purchase a “green” advertisement for his jewellery store. Curious, Ralph
asked why his
store

deserved a special “green” advertisement
.
The telephone r
epresentative assured Ralph
his business was
environmentally conscious

for recycling

scrap gold. “After openly laughing
through the phone,” Ralph recalls, “I felt guilty for embarrassing him” (personal interview).
Declining the offer, he firmly explained
that gold was recycled for economical reasons and
saving the planet was not his intention.
In the phone representative’s defence, s
ome may
argue

that recycling precious metals
can reduce

stress on the environment. If more commodities are
recycled and re
-
c
irculated, it might
decrease

mining operations to obtain more, thus alleviating
the
environment of some extra carbon emissions.

Ralph fully agrees, but “a
t $1800 per ounce,
gold isn’t something you reuse because you’re environmentally friendly”

(personal i
nterview).

The practice of reusing gold existed

long

before the green movement, according to Ralph.

It would seem that precious commodities such as gold have

been reused for thousands
of years, long before humanity realized its activities had a lasting eff
ect on the environment.

Therefore, the argument that recycling gold is
beneficial to

the environmen
t is an extension of
the truth.
Comparable to the Smart Meter Program and light bulb ban
,
Yellow Pages

was
greenwashing a situation to suit their
underlying

motivation. In this instance,
the company

tried

to promote
its
advertisements

by finding eco
-
friendly behaviour where none was intended. This
poses the question: is the company intentionally greenwashing or a victim of it?

In all
likelihood,
both

are corre
ct
. The telephone representative’s judgement was

most likely

subject
to greenwa
shing of his employer
. This theory accounts for the representative

s embarrassment
a
fter realizing the absurdity of his eco
-
friendly presumption

about Ralph’s business
.


It appears that greenwashing has permeated our everyday lives in BC. While the
motivations vary, it seems that
several organizations, namely
our government, a crown
corporation, and a private business
,

all use greenwashing to some extent. They capitalize o
n the
public’s concern for the environment by labelling their legislation,
service, or product as
environmentally friendly, realizing that it is human nature to make decisions based on emotion
reactions to a given situation.

Consequently, the general publi
c absorbs these “outwardly green
acts” and
either acquiesces or
interprets
greenwashing. This leads

to
scepticism
for

all green
initiatives
, which makes public resistance eco
-
friendly change that much greater
. In other
words, those guilty of greenwashing a
re making environmental consciousness more difficult for
people because they approach eco
-
friendly
behaviour

with cynicism.

Essentially, greenwashing
exploits the environment
for social or political gain, much like humanity exploits it for a tangible
gain.



W
ORK
C
ITED


"British Columbians Paying Less Attention to Retailers’ Environmental Actions."
Ipsos North
America Market Research
. 20 Apr. 2011. Web. 28

Nov
. 2011. <www.ipsos
-
na.com>.


"Conservatives Call on Province to End 'ill
-
advised' Smart Meter Program."
Merrit
t
News.net
. Ed.
John O'Connor. 17 Nov. 2011. Web. 25 Nov. 2011. <www.merritnews.net>.


"Consumers Hoard Light Bulbs amid B.C. Ban."
CBC News Canada
. Canadian Broadcasting
Corpo
ration, 25 Jan. 2011. Web. 22 Nov. 2011. <www.cbc.ca/news>.


"Greenwashing."
Merriam
-
Webster Online
.
Encyclopaedia Britannica.
Web. 29 Nov. 2011.
<www.merriam
-
webster.com>.


Herrman, John. "THE Light Bulb Wars."
Popular Mechanics

188.9 (2011): 96
-
102.
Academic
Search Complete
. Web. 19 Nov. 2011.


Kondro, Wayne. "Mercury Disposal Sole Health Concern With Fluorescent Lights."
CMAJ:

Canadian Medical Association Journal

177.2 (2007): 136
-
137.
Academic Search
Complete
. Web. 25 Nov. 2011.


Orange, Erica. "From Eco
-
Friendly To Eco
-
Intelligent."
Futurist

44.5 (2010): 28
-
42.
Academic
Search Complete
. Web. 22 Nov. 2011.


Tober, Ralph H. Personal interview. 25 Nov. 2011.


Tieleman, Bill. "A Skeptic's Guide to BC Smart Meters."
The Tyee
. 9 Aug. 20
11. Web. 28 Nov.
2011. <thetyee.ca>.