Painting Within the (Green) Lines

“Green,” “environmentally friendly,” “eco-friendly,” and “sustainable” are all buzz words that have become an integral part of the design community. Another used sometimes is “greenwashing.” Greenwashing is when almost any action or product, regardless of its impacts on living beings or the environment, is portrayed as green.

The American Institute of Architects is concerned with Greenwashing, so since January 1, 2009, new or on-going continuing education programs registered with the AIA that have “green,” “sustainable,” or similar words in the title must be pre-approved to be sure the program truly does cover green issues. To qualify for Sustainable Design (SD) credit, at least 75 percent of the program must cover SD issues. Duro-Last® has six programs registered for SD credit.

In response to the expansion of the green movement and the broad claims of environmental responsibility, the Federal Trade Commission recently updated its Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims, also known as the FTC Green Guides. Here are some general guidelines to follow based on the revised Guides:

Avoid blanket statements like “green,” environmentally friendly,” and “eco-friendly,” because these are difficult or impossible to substantiate. Deceptive statements like, “This product is environmentally preferable,” or the general reference “eco-friendly” should also be avoided because it is unlikely that a marketer can substantiate these claims.

Be careful to qualify claims such as:

“Recyclable” – The FTC follows a three-tiered analysis to evaluate this claim:

1. Substantial majority of consumers have access to recycling facilities

2. Significant percentage of consumers have access to recycling facilities (the statement should be qualified by, for example, adding the text (appropriate for Duro-Last’s recycling program): “when membrane is returned to Duro-Last following program guidelines.”)

3. Less than significant percentage of consumers have access to recycling facilities (the statement should be qualified with text such as: “this product is only recyclable in specified regions of the U.S.”)

“Free-of…” or “Contains no…” – These claims are often deceptive and have no bearing on a product’s overall environmental impact. Competitors of Duro-Last frequently make claims such as “PVC-Free” or “Chlorine-Free” in their negative marketing. In fact, there is no substantiation that products without PVC or chlorine are better or worse for humans or the environment generally.

Made with Renewable Energy or Materials – Statements like this should always be qualified if the entire product/system is not made with renewable energy or materials.

Carbon Offsets – Scientific evidence should support any claims regarding carbon offsets or emission.

The “green” approach to building design and construction will continue to spread, and it’s important for consumers to understand which green claims are “within the lines,” and which really should be washed away.