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EPA’s Green Power Leadership Awards – Rewarding Baby Steps or Greenwashing?

| Tuesday September 15th, 2009 | 0 Comments

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When the EPA recently announced the 2009 winners of its Green Power Leadership Awards, the list included a number of corporate heavyweights (including Wal-Mart, Deutsche Bank AG, and Intel Corporation) as well as several smaller companies. These companies aren’t typically the first to come to mind when I think of environmentalism. Are the awards a step in the right direction in terms of making sustainability more mainstream, or are they awarding close-but-no-cigar “sustainability”?

Sponsored by the EPA, U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), and Center for Resource Solutions (CRS), the awards recognize organizations, programs, and individuals that “significantly advance green power development,” the DOE website says. The annual awards are held in conjunction with the yearly Renewable Energy Markets, a conference attended by leading renewable energy and green power stakeholders.

Interestingly, the awards recognize three distinct groups: renewable energy purchasers, suppliers, and marketers. The awards recognize the respective groups with distinctions including the Green Power Partner of the Year, New Green Power Program or Product, Green Power Beacon, and others. Cheers to recognizing the group-effort factor in maintaining a (at least somewhat) sustainable business.

Now, to play devil’s advocate. While supporting green power is commendable, is it enough? Do the Green Power Leadership Awards investigate its winners’ corporate social responsibility? And by recognizing companies that are not fully green, do the Awards promote partial environmental responsibility (or greenwashing)?

The issue of something-is-better-than-nothing sustainability is one I think about frequently. After all, we have to start somewhere, and maybe baby steps are the way to go. Should organizations be required to meet some highly-raised green bar, or should they be recognized for whatever efforts they make? (By the way, I don’t say this to imply that the Green Power Leadership Awards do not have a bar.)

Moreover, a peek at last year’s winners is revealing. For example, last year’s Green Power Partner of the Year Award went to Intel, Cisco, and several other companies. This year, it went to… Intel again (and several others). Kohl’s Department Stores and PepsiCo also received awards last year as well as this year. While this could be because these companies simply deserved recognition both years, or because their administrative staffs are diligent at submitting the award nominations in time, it could also be because the awards are limited in scope. (Or, my inner conspiracy theorist speculates, because the awards are granted in cahoots with the corporations.)

What are your thoughts on the matter?


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