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Survey: 'Green' tag should be banished

Lake Superior State University poll reflects annoyance with excessive green labeling. To improve the picture, ask for standards and more disclosure from business.

Green fatigue is now pervasive.

Numerous environment-theme blogs and news sites over the past week have pointed to a statement put out by Lake Superior State University in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., calling for the demise of all "green" labeling.

Since 1975, the university has been taking nominations for words that need to be banned. The top vote getters for 2008 were "green" and "going green." Also on the black list were the terms carbon footprint and carbon offset.


One word-banning nominator, Ed Hardiman from Bristow, Va., summed up his lack of patience nicely: "If I see one more corporation declare itself 'green,' I'm going to start burning tires in my backyard."

Web site TreeHugger declares that the term green is "barely hanging on," while Willie Brent at his Mr. Cleantech blog speculates that many media companies will need to rethink their naming.

As a person who helped name the CNET Green Tech blog, I suppose I have something to answer for here.

And clearly, there are some real abuses. TreeHugger points to how the concrete industry--source of one of the most polluting industrial processes--has tried to paint itself green and sustainable.

Aggressive green marketing--also known as greenwashing--isn't very helpful to consumers who actually care about making environmentally conscious buying decisions.

But the answer isn't to ban the word green. Consumers simply need to be as savvy as they can and seek out as much information they can. Businesses should also get used to disclosing more--those with less to hide come out looking better.

Greenpeace puts out an electronics guide every year in which it drills down into a number of factors--use of toxics, recycling, carbon emissions, and corporate disclosures.

The same should hold true in other product categories--the more detail, the better. And this is where standards and certifications like Energy Star can really help.

For this to work, journalists and Web writers need to be as specific as possible in the terms they use, and try to give an environmental profile of different technologies.

After all, things aren't often black-and-white. There are many shades to being green.