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As a Term, ‘Green’ a Best-Seller, But at What Cost?

green-globe2More and more book titles are being published under the banner of “green” this or “green” that, evidence that the convenient tagline given to all things sustainable and environmental at least has some resonance with publishers and the book-buying public. But those in the business of making companies more energy efficient, more sustainable and more environmentally friendly continue to grapple with the inadequacy of the term “green.”

From “The Gorgeously Green Diet: How to Live Lean and Green” to “Cooking Green: Reducing Your Carbon Footprint in the Kitchen” to “Greening Your Business: The Hands-On Guide to Creating a Successful and Sustainable Business,” book publishers are all over the trend, reports The Milwaukee Sentinal-Journal, via the San Luis Obispo Tribune.

But some are wondering if the “green” thing has gone too far. For instance, at the very top of Lake Superior State University’s 2009 List of Banished Words, were the following terms: “green,” “going green,” “carbon footprint,” and “carbon offsetting,” reports mlive.com. Yet Merriam-Webster saw fit to add the term “carbon footprint” to its collegiate dictionary.

Even the word “sustainability” has come under fire. Using the term does not spur society on to an ultimately better solution. Rather, it is a “negative vision,” said MIT Sloan’s Peter Senge, founder of the Society for Organizational Learning. “It’s just a bad word. It’s technically what we would call a ‘negative vision,’” Senge said.

In a blog post entitled “Green is Dead, Long Live Green,” The Triple Pundit argues that society is entering a “post-green, post-sustainability” era.

Consumers tend to see beyond a company’s claim to market a “green” product, when considering whether they consider a company sustainable or not. See a related chart here.

To be certain, the frequency of advertising of green claims is on the rise. Looking at 18,000 ads in recent issues of Time, Fortune, National Geographic, Sports Illustrated and Vanity Fair, TerraChoice found that more than 10 percent of all ads in 2008 made some sort of “green” claim. That’s up from about 3 percent in 2006.

Indeed, some companies take their “greenness” too far, as seen by the preponderance of greenwashing lawsuits.

Yet the mainstream media, even respected business publications, remain attached to the term “green.” Witness the following recent headlines:

Whatever the solution, those working in renewable energy, energy efficiency, corporate social responsibility and environmental stewardship generally do not wish to see their industries minimized to a trite, all-encompassing term like “green,”  no matter how mainstream the term becomes.

But until something better comes along, it appears the writers of headlines will continue to set the scene. And the scene, for now, will be “green.”

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4 thoughts on “As a Term, ‘Green’ a Best-Seller, But at What Cost?

  1. Looking at the titles of your related stories says it all. Each one uses the term “green.” Green has become a a valueless adjective that implies something without any sort of clear definition. It obscures the message, devalues the content and renders quantatative discussion irrelevant. For us to clearly describe the benefits of sustainability to business we owe to our stakeholders or communities, and to ourselves to come up with a better way to communicate the value of sustainability.


  2. Everyone in marketing knows it takes many impressions for consumers to “see” a brand. Green as a concept is only now scratching the surface of the consumer psyche.

    Of course, those that have appreciated the concept of green for a long time (3 years or so?) are now bored or find it too undefined. But, now is when the consumer, the voter, the stakeholder, most need everyone to hold steady and not shift the course to the individual constituencies of green.

    For the U.S. to make a true shift in behavior, consumers, voters and constituents need to take personal responsiblity for their decisions when shopping, voting and investing. That’s not happening much and therefore, the Green message is nowhere near being ready to retire.

    It took 100 years of obliviousness to get where we are. Green is the term that may stem the tide and move the U.S. toward a more eco-conscious and social conscious path. Long live green.

  3. i honestly think that green should be refering to nothing other than making the environment a beeter place to live;therefore every other allussion to the term green,should be stopped. an exception may be for vegetarians to call their means of living green.yet even that would be in some quarters insulting. so i think we best live green at what it is-salvaging the environment we live in

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