Greenwash? Time’s Up! How “Single Factor Sustainability” Will Cost You

bomb alarm clockDo you consider yourself a green company? A company trying to go green? Or trying to do as much as you need to be perceived as green? You’d better watch out. Consumers aren’t stupid. And thanks to books like Ecoholic: Your Guide to the Most Environmentally Friendly Information, Products & Services, they’re going to keep getting smarter, faster.

And you stand to lose if you continue to go by the mode of compliance, single factor sustainability (without considering the other consequences) and outright trying to fool people into believing you’re something you’re not.

People are getting smarter through books like Ecoholic, and they won’t continue to take superficial efforts, especially if they’re negative to their health and that of their local environment. Different people are motivated by different things, and some may care less about the environment on a broader level, but if your product is contributing to their kids getting sick, or their favorite lake becoming toxic, you will pay.

It’s no surprise that cosmetics and bodycare products aren’t always as they appear to be, but in reading Ecoholic, it can be extreme. Ingredients that are hormone disruptors. That are made from derivatives or the actual chemical that is illegal to be included in other types of products. Languaging and brand naming that gives the appearance that the product is healthy or green, when it’s quite the opposite.

The time where you can continue to count on a sufficient number of the masses to be unaware that your product is unhealthy for them, and continue buying your product, is coming to a close. Fast.

Ecoholic takes a smart approach to get more people listening: Focus on the personally affecting things. Then get more macro, once you have people enrolled that the choices that they make have an impact, and they can better listen to what’s going on in the larger scheme of things, and what they can do about it, as an individual, and in conjunction with others.

Though it’s been said that this “green thing” is a trend that will disappear as other fad concerns have, it’s not showing any signs of that being the case. Yes, it’s changing shape, some are getting weary of green messaging. But their awareness and interest in making smarter, more sustainable choices, is not, as evidenced by books like Ecoholic coming out.

The question that comes to my mind is, will smarter, greener consumers with a greater passion for the environment be bad for business? Or will it simply encourage us as businesses to be on our toes, transparent about our efforts, and more effective at educating consumers on what it is about our products that are worth their hard earned money?

Then again, it seems many are ready to pounce on companies that aren’t up to their standards of what they consider a sustainability, as being greenwashers. Unhelpful, destructive attitude in my book. Yes, if a company purposely seeks to deceive, they deserve to be called out. But if they are a giant, trying to shift course, it has to be said that giants move slow.

Their progress may not be at the speed of an agile startup, but the progress, taken as a whole, has the potential to have a huge impact. Scaring companies into inaction, or not even sharing that they’re making an effort to go green, is hindering the pace of progress needed.

I was surprised to find some of the expected eco baddies, or at least not so goodies, doing better than I expected. For instance, IKEA was frequently sited in Ecoholic as refraining from the negative practices of others, for instance, their goose down pillows come from feathers already fallen off the geese, not plucked from live or just killed geese. All Ziploc and Glad products are phthalate free.

So where do you stand? Do you think consumer attitudes are changing, to an extent that companies need to be concerned about the integrity of their product offerings being called into question/revealed for what they are? Or is business as usual just fine? Let’s talk, below.

Tom Szaky is the Founder and CEO of TerraCycle, Inc. a company that makes eco-revolutionary products entirely from garbage! TerraCycle, since its humble beginnings in a Princeton University dorm room, is committed to being a triple bottom line company. Tom at the ancient age of 19 learned about composting with worms. The concept of using tiny little worms to turn food waste into a powerful, organic fertilizer fascinated Tom, who was appalled by the amount of food discarded by his campus's cafeteria. Tom started TerraCycle with no investors from a friend's garage by building a Worm Gin where he could house millions of worms in a small area. He all but bankrupted himself and maxed out all his credit cards to build the machine. With the help of friends he would shovel pounds of rotten, maggot-infested food from the Princeton cafeterias. Without any money left over, Tom could not afford to buy bottles to package his fertilizer. That's when the sustainability gods smiled on Tom, who was up one night wandering the streets Princeton in search of an answer to his packaging dilemma. It just happened to be recycling night and Tom realized that millions of homes were putting billions of free bottles out on the curb once a week! That serendipitous moment set everything to follow into motion. Slowly he began to finance his infantile start up by winning business plan contests. Finally he hit the pay dirt! He won the million dollar grand prize at the Carrot Capital Business plan contest. However, the financiers of the contest wanted to move TerraCycle away from used bottles and away from it's environmental focus. Despite being on the verge of bankruptcy, Tom turned down the money. In the six years since then TerraCycle has grown to a multi-million dollar company that doubles in size every year. Still we are committed to our triple bottom line beginnings. Still making our products from other's people waste. Still based in an Urban Enterprise Zone in Trenton, NJ. Still a second chance employer. Find out how and why, here at

One response

  1. Whilst the efforts that companies are making should be applauded, it is not much good if they are doing the equivalent of metaphorically jumping 3 feet over a ten feet gap. There's what we need to transform our civilisation into a sustainable one and there's what is being done at the moment and they are not the same. Nowhere near enough. The whole economy is still based upon ever expanding throughput of materials, growth of energy input and increasing waste because of ever expanding planned obsolescence.

    Sustainability means that most products need to be redesigned so that they last very much longer – disposable products need to be phased out, even if they are recyclable. Some of the commercial elements, such as the marketing and advertising companies, need to stop plugging “novelty”, fashion and ephemeral products designed to appeal for a short while before being replaced.

    Nick Palmer
    Sustainability and stuff according to Nick Palmer

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