Being “green” is the new cool. Your family’s “green Christmas” and toy purchases from this season will advertise to your friends and relatives that you care about the environment. But environmentalists are balking. They say that too many companies are claiming to be green and thus are “greenwashing” everything.

Greenpeace describes greenwashing as the act of misleading consumers regarding the environmental practices of a company or the environmental benefits of a product or service. The deeper irony is that greenwashing was the original tactic many environmentalists used to manipulate us into adopting practices that actually do not sustain the environment. Another term for greenwashing would be greenboozled.

One of the unintended consequences of a greenwashing environmental rhetoric is that being green has turned into a fad. Marketing departments have discovered how easy it is to sell products to people who want to feel good about their consumption problem. Greenwashing works because most Americans do not think about negative spill-over effects, environmental processes, long-term effects on the poor, or the economic implications of allegedly environment-friendly proposals. Simply saying something is green is enough for most of us. Who cares if it’s true or if it works? We are satisfied with the arbitrary labeling.

Environmentalists do not want us to believe the green claims coming from large corporations in manufacturing and energy production, but these are the same people that greenwashed us into believing that ethanol is environmentally better than gasoline, that recycling improves the environment, and many other such greenwashed untruths. Stewardship of the environment is yet another area furnishing evidence that ethical integrity is critical to effective action. We need more honesty and less exaggeration.

The National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition (NEVC), the nation’s primary advocacy group promoting the use of E85 fuel (85 percent ethanol fuel, 15 percent gasoline) as a form of alternative transportation fuel, was positioned to greenwash us until Dr. Mark Z. Jacobson of Stanford University and other researchers revealed our ignorance. In a 2007 study, Jacobson demonstrated that ethanol is just as bad for the environment as gasoline.

Due to its ozone effects, future E85 may be a greater overall public health risk than gasoline. In fact, if we move toward the proposed E85 fuel goals, it may increase ozone-related mortality, hospitalization, and asthma by 4 percent in the United States as a whole relative to 100 percent gasoline use. Jacobson and others have concluded with confidence only that E85 is unlikely to improve air quality over future gasoline vehicles. Unburned ethanol emissions from E85 may result in a global-scale source of acetaldehyde larger than that of direct emissions. Why then is NEVC still greenboozling the American public?

Perhaps the greatest greenwash of all is the mythology surrounding the environmental benefits of recycling. In reality, the only real beneficiaries of the recycling movement are environmental groups and recycling companies. According to Progressive Investor, from 1968 to 2008, the recycling industry grew from $4.6 billion in annual sales to roughly $236 billion.

However, William McDonough and Michael Braungart, authors of Cradle to Cradle, employing the use of reason coupled with hard data, demonstrate that the energy, chemicals, and toxins used in the recycling process create products and environmental waste that are just as hazardous as was theĀ original production. This is true in part because we do not manufacture products to be recycled at the outset. As such, the waste that is produced when putting metals, plastics, and paper through recycling processes yields no environmental gain.

As McDonough and Braungart point out, the products we think we are “recycling” are actually “downcycled” — that is, we transform the material into one of lesser quality when we recycle metals, plastics, paper, and so on. For example, paper requires extensive bleaching and other chemicals to make it white again for reuse resulting in a mixture of chemicals, pulp, and at times, toxic inks.

Why, then, does the National Recycling Coalition encourage environmentally harmful processes and recycled products that eventually end up in landfills anyway? There is nothing wrong with recycling as an industry but the public should not be fooled into believing that recycling helps the environment.

What our conversations about the environment need, on all sides, is truthfulness rooted in the recognition that good intentions do not make good policy. Truthfulness in environmentalism is a call to weigh the facts, prioritize the needs of the poor, and keep government bureaucrats from instituting policy based on greenboozling rhetoric so that we can effectively meet the needs of human welfare and responsible care for our environment.

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  • Andrew James

    A good example of this is the use of soy products. I heard an advertisement recently for soy candles as a “green” alternative. Just yesterday I read some marketing materials for a “green company” printed with soy ink. What folks don’t realize is that Brazilian rainforests are being cleared primarily for growing soybeans to feed our cultures need to feel good about themselves.

  • I have felt for years that recycling was of little benefit to anyone when you look at it from a purely personal standpoint. Considering the amount of time and effort it takes to sort materials and set them out separately from the garbage, and considering the amount of energy it takes to rinse bottles and cans with hot water–it seems to me that it’s not worth it, even before the materials make it to the recycling center.

    We need to remember that whatever solutions we come up with to environmental problems have to take us human beings into account. A “solution” that requires intense labor, energy, time, and frustration is simply not going to be effective for anyone. We need to be realistic about what we can and should do in this fallen world, a world that is waiting to be remade–kind of the ultimate recycling project. Trust in Jesus for all things, including our trash.

  • goral

    Yes, the down-cycling is also being done on the mental level to get us to believe the utter nonsense of the environmentalists.
    The green movement should have the watermelon as its symbol – green on the outside, red on the inside.
    The originators of these half-baked notions are for the most part ivy-league graduates who could not identify a carrot or root parsley by its greens and would be appalled and insulted if a sign was put on the toiled door – go green.
    It’s arrogance that translates into nice profits for all who are at the helm and in the cabin of Calypso.

  • aurit

    The “green” process does need an overhaul and standards should be established to determine if something is “green”. “Green” like beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Recycling does save on landfill space, but also uses chemicals. In different parts of the country a decision needs to be made indepedantly. Landfill space is a premium along the coasts, but we do have more room here in the Midwest. Solar is good for some southern states, but isn’t in the rest of the country. Wind is abundant on the plains, but you never see a windfarm in the City, it is always in the country/farmlands. Pushing for green is nearly always more costly. If it was cost effective, then private industry would be all green energy. If the government needs to have “incentives”, then you need to call into quesiton the rationale for the green energy drive. You also need to consider were your money is going. Should you invest in oil from the Mideast or should you invest in ethanol from the Midwest?

    Bottom line, these discussions must occur and we as professionals in our industries must not let the environmentalists take sole charge. As recent as 30 years ago the condition of our environment was bad and we all were negligent. We never effectively made policy for sensible solutions and the environmentalists grabed the wheel and are now driving the car. We need to gain control and identify a resonable approach going forward.

  • c-kingsley

    I just heard today that Hawaii is planning to “switch to electric cars” ( ) as a way to make the state not dependent on imported oil.

    I wonder how they generate electricity in Hawaii?

    Electric cars are a way of moving pollution from the car to the power plant, and probably generating more pollution in the process. (You lose energy: when you burn fuel to run a generator, when you transmit power on a power line, when you charge a battery, and even when the battery sits idle, all before you make it do any useful work of moving the car.)

  • terrygeorge

    I think people on both sides of the issue are prone to be less than complete and accurate, less than truthful, to make their point. This article has an awfully low density of facts or references for the assertions it makes.

    You really want me to believe that recycling steel cans is no better than mining for mineral ore, transporting and processing the ore (or that rinsing cans is labor intensive!)? Seriously, have you ever seen a mine? Have you looked at or tasted the surface water at a place where mining occurred decades ago but it is still poison? I grew up in that kind of mess. Come on!