Wednesday, June 11, 2008


I’m proposing a much needed new word. I’m allowed to make up words. I’m a copywriter. I do it for a living. I only say that because of the litany of terrible made-up words (presumably not by copywriters) that pervade much of modern life- words like Brangelina, Rathergate, and greenwashing.

Greendexing would be the infinitive form of a root word whose base is greendex. A greendex would be a score given to products, services or claims that companies proclaim as green. Greendexing would be the act of rating these products (infinitive- to greendex).

I think this idea is especially necessary, considering the adoption by companies of the green message. Now any company that uses low-electricity lightbulbs to save on their own budget claims to be green. However, a company that runs completely on solar and wind energy is also green. You see the problem? There’s no scale.

I therefore propose the scale of greendexing to help consumers understand the degree of green-ness a product or service really offers. I think a greendex for products and services, for example, should work on a 10 point scale. It should be based on the actual environmental impact combined with the motivation of the company.

Example 1
For example, a company who says you should buy their insulation because it makes your home green by saving on energy costs related to heating and cooling would get a 0. First, insulation has been around for a long time and has always done the same thing. Just because it happened to match with a green talking point doesn’t qualify it as anything new. Also, as to motivation, the company’s interest is clearly in selling you something and not at all with environmental interests because it is doing nothing different.

Example 2
Another example might be a company that claims to be green because it uses lower wattage and natural lighting it its warehouses to reduce its carbon emissions footprint. This claim might get a 2. The company is actually doing at least the smallest amount to help the environment, but only in the tiniest way. And naturally, their reason for telling you this is to convince you of their conscience so you’ll buy buy buy. Last, but not least, their motivation for making those changes is probably primarily budgetary- less energy costs helps their bottom line.

Example 3
An example of a 6 might be a crushed seaglass countertop composed of 80% recycled glass that washes up on beaches. This product clearly provides substantial environmental benefit by using recycled materials. What’s more, it doesn’t do it at a negligible level- 80% of the product is made from recycled material, which is pretty impressive. Why not give it a higher score? Because products like this usually command a premium that will knock your socks off. This might cost you two or three times the cost of a normal countertop. So, despite its overwhelming environmental benefit, the motivation for creating the product is still clearly one of profit, as evidenced by the huge markup. It preys on people needing green cred.

Example 4
Finally, imagine a house that runs completely on solar and wind energy, has a cistern and water collection system for water, uses energy efficient lighting, heating, cooling, bamboo floors, etc. and has a base of shipping containers as structure of the house. This house would do great on practically all fronts, assuming it’s not arbitrarily marked up for being green. Everything it does helps the environment. You might be wondering about those shipping containers, though. It’s actually a growing practice as of late to use shipping containers to form the primary structure of a home. Since the US has had a trade deficit for so long, there are giant farms of shipping crates just sitting around. Using them for housing puts them to good use, and not in ugly landfills, and they’re actually very sturdy and affordable. Some of the homes are also quite nice. So, like buying second-hand furniture (which they now call “reclaimed” because the new green yuppies wouldn’t be caught dead with something “used”), it’s not only environmentally friendly, but also cheaper.

Rating People
I also thing people who have “gone green” should be rated, perhaps on a 100 point system for better accuracy. This is less crucial, but there should be a difference between someone who buys CFL lightbulbs (not a magnanimous difference) and someone who buys a home like the one above. I won’t bother with examples here. Just think it over.

So, that’s why I think we need this made up word, greendexing. It will help us sort through the clutter and figure out what’s really environmentally responsible and what’s just a twist of words for profit. After all, greenwashing (shudder) is already rampant and consumers are already lashing out.


Andrew Pace said...

As a 15+ year veteran of the green building industry, I needed a way to educate consumers about the green or eco-friendly-ness of the materials they are buying. So, I created Degree of Green (R) and launched it late last year. Your post is right on target and speaks volumes as to why the system is necessary. There are 40+ reasons why a manufacturer can market their materials as "green". However, not every customer buys green for the same reason. We review the product's marketing pieces for their eco-accuracy and report our findings to the retailers and their customers. Then once all of the information is presented, the customer can make her or his own purchasing decision based on what "degree of green" they are trying to achieve.

Spork in the Road said...

Andrew, I am impressed. You're a reminder that there really are forward thinkers out there able to help pull industries along before they're pushed forward by consumers. Kudos.