As a Term, ‘Green’ a Best-Seller, But at What Cost?

by | Aug 3, 2009

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green-globe2More and more book titles are being published under the banner of “green” this or “green” that, evidence that the convenient tagline given to all things sustainable and environmental at least has some resonance with publishers and the book-buying public. But those in the business of making companies more energy efficient, more sustainable and more environmentally friendly continue to grapple with the inadequacy of the term “green.”

From “The Gorgeously Green Diet: How to Live Lean and Green” to “Cooking Green: Reducing Your Carbon Footprint in the Kitchen” to “Greening Your Business: The Hands-On Guide to Creating a Successful and Sustainable Business,” book publishers are all over the trend, reports The Milwaukee Sentinal-Journal, via the San Luis Obispo Tribune.

But some are wondering if the “green” thing has gone too far. For instance, at the very top of Lake Superior State University’s 2009 List of Banished Words, were the following terms: “green,” “going green,” “carbon footprint,” and “carbon offsetting,” reports Yet Merriam-Webster saw fit to add the term “carbon footprint” to its collegiate dictionary.

Even the word “sustainability” has come under fire. Using the term does not spur society on to an ultimately better solution. Rather, it is a “negative vision,” said MIT Sloan’s Peter Senge, founder of the Society for Organizational Learning. “It’s just a bad word. It’s technically what we would call a ‘negative vision,’” Senge said.

In a blog post entitled “Green is Dead, Long Live Green,” The Triple Pundit argues that society is entering a “post-green, post-sustainability” era.

Consumers tend to see beyond a company’s claim to market a “green” product, when considering whether they consider a company sustainable or not. See a related chart here.

To be certain, the frequency of advertising of green claims is on the rise. Looking at 18,000 ads in recent issues of Time, Fortune, National Geographic, Sports Illustrated and Vanity Fair, TerraChoice found that more than 10 percent of all ads in 2008 made some sort of “green” claim. That’s up from about 3 percent in 2006.

Indeed, some companies take their “greenness” too far, as seen by the preponderance of greenwashing lawsuits.

Yet the mainstream media, even respected business publications, remain attached to the term “green.” Witness the following recent headlines:

Whatever the solution, those working in renewable energy, energy efficiency, corporate social responsibility and environmental stewardship generally do not wish to see their industries minimized to a trite, all-encompassing term like “green,”  no matter how mainstream the term becomes.

But until something better comes along, it appears the writers of headlines will continue to set the scene. And the scene, for now, will be “green.”

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