Being Green – Car Alarms…

Hi Folks:

Friday has wound its way around once again, so it must be time for this week’s ‘Being Green‘ post.  Now, if you’ve been around for more than the past few decades you probably remember a time before car alarms were invented.  While these alarms have gotten a lot more sophisticated since they were first invented, what most people associate with them is the screeching siren that accompanies them.  When these alarms first came out people were generally appreciative of them, but that transitioned to annoyance, and now, for the most part, people ignore them.  One poll in England found that car alarms are the ‘most irritating piece of technology ever invented‘.  When a car alarm goes off today, most passersby won’t even bother to lift their gaze from their smart phones.

So, what does that have to do with being green?  On the surface… nothing – unless of course the alarm is wired into a hybrid or hydrogen-powered vehicle.  Still, my mind often has a way of making connections between things that are bound by the thinnest of threads.  There have been a few reports recently in the US that the FTC has set new guidelines for the use of Environmental Marketing Claims.  One article I read includes the following:

Christopher Cole, an advertising-law specialist and partner with law firm Manatt Phelps & Phillips in Washington, said the guides could render most of the more than 300 environmental seals of approval now in currency on packaging and products largely useless and possibly in violation of FTC standards. They could also influence efforts, seemingly stalled, by retailers such as Walmart to institute a sustainability-rating system for products.

Another article put it slightly differently:

Leonard Gordon, an FTC regional director I saw present not long ago, put it another way. He indicated that certification by any one or more of the hundreds of third-party certifiers and eco labels does not insulate advertisers, and they will be held accountable for any claims in connection with such certification. What that means to me is that many certifiers are going to be working very hard to make sure their certifications remain in compliance with the new guides, and some, maybe many, certified companies will need to make changes or drop the labels they use.

Now, cutting down on misleading advertising and ‘greenwashing’ is certainly a good thing.  But what concerns me the most is the greater implications for the average consumer: namely that if there are indeed some 300 different ‘green’ or ‘eco’ labels on products, then people will simply tune them out.  They’ll become like car alarm sirens.  When going shopping people will look past the ‘green’ labels on competing products because the average consumer will begin to doubt the value of such labels and make their choices based on price or some other criteria.  Perhaps the biggest issue will be separating those standards that have significant value from those that don’t.  Maybe the new FTC guidelines will take care of that, at least in part, in the US.

There’s another side to this as well, and that is that certification is not necessary for living green.  In the August 2010 issue of Harrowsmith Country Life magazine there’s an article about a couple in southern Ontario who have built a green home and who are doing their best to live a sustainable lifestyle.  Based on the specs and information I’ve seen, they put a lot of thought and effort into the design and construction of their home and worked with similarly committed professionals to complete the work.  What they did not do is apply for or receive any ‘green’ certification – not from LEED, BuiltGreen, The Living Building Challenge or anyone else.  They’re living a lifestyle that is  in concordance with their values.  They’re happy with their home and their lifestyle and for them, that’s what matters.

This to me is a double-edged sword.  On one hand, building green and/or living green in any way requires a level of commitment for those involved.  At the same time, without third-party-certification, how do we translate those individual values into any form of measurable or comparable metric?  We can’t.  I don’t have any answers here, but I can see a time coming when terms like ‘green’ and ‘sustainable’ are shunted aside because people feel they no longer have any value.  If that time is coupled with a growing sense of individual and collective responsibility for our interactions with the rest of this little blue marble, then great!  We have the potential to make this world a much better place to live.  But if people simply tune out and allow apathy to rule their lives, then I wonder what the future holds for all of us.  Personally, I choose the former, and that’s the best I can do.  It may be that what we need to do is to look at the underlying values we have, the reasons we each have for taking the steps we do.  If building green, using ecological products, or living a sustainable lifestyle is important to you, or if you’re involved with a business or industry that provides such a product or service, ask yourself one simple question:  Why?

Okay, the links for this week include:

Okay, that’s it for now. Have a great week!


P.S. An interesting perspective on one man’s daily commute: It’s All About Work-Life Balance

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