Greenrealestate: The dangers of greenwashing

Green Real Estate Sep 11, 2009

shoppingcartBy Elden Freeman
With environmental concerns at the forefront of the news agenda, businesses are taking notice of the opportunity that today’s consumer mindset presents. As divided American legislators wrestle over the landmark Waxman-Markey bill, the writing is on the wall that the market is interested in goods and services that facilitate a more ecological lifestyle. The public relations arms of many companies have noticed the trend, and not always to great effect.
Corporate response to widespread environmental awareness ranges from the positive and transparent to the unfortunate and deceptive. Some companies have responded well and have been rewarded, as in the case of the success of hybrid vehicles. Even Caterpillar has developed a hybrid diesel-electric bulldozer.
But in all fields, there are organizations more interested in marketing themselves than addressing the issue. The term “greenwashing” was coined to describe the disingenuous activities of companies and organizations that pursue activities that supposedly benefit the environment but in reality are only public relations exercises without any substantial environmental benefit, or whose benefits are vague and misleading at best.
Recently controversy has erupted in the United States over which foods can be classified as “organic”, and accusations of greenwashing have been thrown around accordingly.
Certifying organizations are subject to their own pressures, and so knowing which authorities to trust can be confusing. At first glance, a lot of businesses may seem to be quite environmentally friendly, with certifications from green-sounding organizations, some which the average consumer may see quite often. The truth is that some certifying organizations are simply business-affiliated groups or lobby organizations with minimal if any certification standards. Or, sometimes certification logos of groups like EnergyStar are used without permission.
Not all greenwashing is on purpose. There are some organizations that, while well-meaning, lack the knowledge and preparedness required to fully tackle the considerable task of reducing their environmental impact. So some bottled water companies advertise how they have reduced paper labels on their products, as opposed to evaluating the production, materials sourcing, transportation, and disposal of their product. Realizing authentic improvements requires considering all parts of the manufacturing process, and the entire life-cycle of a product. The organizations that make a difference are those that have been diligent in their study of environmental issues, and possess the all-around knowledge to offer strong solutions that aren’t just public relations Band-Aids.
The National Association of Green Agents and Brokers provides real estate professionals in Canada with the best tools to improve their real estate practice. It provides training and educational resources to help practitioners identify environmentally friendly homes, and to see how buyers and sellers can enhance property values and reduce costs by making homes more energy efficient. It also certifies real estate organizations through its corporate green real estate leaders program, identifying organizations that adopt green practices in their day-to-day business operation to reduce energy consumption and waste. As well, it has partnered with home inspection leaders AmeriSpec, the nonprofit Earth Day Canada, and the Ontario provincial government to deliver programs, information, and services to real estate professionals. NAGAB’s certification is backed up by thorough research and the best environmental practices in use in the real estate business.
Identifying genuine green organizations and learning about the services and information they offer give both businesses and private individuals a leg up on coming changes that will affect business operations and personal lives in the near future. The Waxman-Markey bill is part of a historical trend along with previous agreements like the Kyoto Accord, and both likely represent just a taste of changes to come. In time, it is probable that institutions like governmental regulators, insurers, and all manner of business will codify in policy what is now a top concern for consumers. Organizations like NAGAB offer genuine and useful tools for meeting challenges in the more ecologically sensitive marketplace, and to excel in it.
Elden Freeman  B.A., M.E.S, broker is the founder and executive director of the non-profit National Association of Green Agents and Brokers (NAGAB). Freeman says he believes that Realtors across Canada can play an important role in educating their clients on increasing energy efficiency and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. (416) 536-7325;