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The Exchange

Sustainable or Green-washing?


Many companies these days take pride in reducing their environmental impact, from composting to using lighter packaging.  And it's a selling point, as more consumers favor environmentally conscious firms. Some businesses, however, are accused of green-washing -- promoting an image that has little to do with reality.


Michael Bellamente - Managing director of the Green Alliance, a partnership of businesses that pursue sustainable, environmentally friendly practices. 

Sam Evans-Brown - NHPR's environmental reporter and host of NHPR's Outside/In, a show about the natural world and how we use it. 

Glenn Johnson - Founder and owner of AutoBeGreen, which sells environmentally friendly products for various vehicles.

David Boynton - Founder and owner of 7th Settlement, a farm-to-table restaurant and brewery in Dover.

Michael Bellamente outlined the "golden triangle of sustainability," three requirements a product needs to have in order to be more sustainable, or good for the present without harming the future. Products need to be cost-comparative, quality-comparative, and fashion and taste-comparative to similar products already on the market.

As for products already on the market, Sam Evans-Brown cites Coca-cola as a company that is working to reduce the environmental impact of its already-successful products. 

If people are going to be buying that sugar water, I'm glad that the company is making an effort to reduce their impact.

Evans-Brown is working with the New Hampshire Businesses for Social Responsibility (NHBSR) to host a Sustainability Slam, which will feature twelve New Hampshire businesses that have successfully worked to reduce their impact on the environment. 

Glenn Johnson says consumers need to go beyond just making the most obvious sustainable choices when choosing products, especially when driving. However, he understands the importance of appealing to budget-conscious customers when making his alternative automotive products.

Green is great, but it it's twice the cost, people will hesitate.

A listener email asked about energy-ratings on electronics and household appliances. Some of these rating programs include Energy Star, Follow the Frog, and Ethical Barcode. Evans-Brown told listeners to consider embodied energy when choosing new appliances.

[Embodied energy is] the energy it took to manufacture whatever product that you're working on.

He says its important to consider if replacing a product will be more efficient than keeping the old one. A good place to start is your refrigerator, he says, which runs constantly and therefore uses more energy than an occasionally-used appliance, like the washing machine. 

David Boynton knows that creating a sustainable business is a huge challenge, but long term investment in sustainability is fruitful. 

You have to commit to it...but you also reap the benefits. We may spend more in labor butchering our cows, but we're getting them at a little bit less cost, because we're providing grain and we're buying the whole cow.

One such business was mentioned by listener Adam from Berlin: Berlin FCI, a federal prison in the city, has a food digester "that removes the moisture and creates lightweight dry pelts."  

On the issue of whether local products are always more sustainable, Evans-Brown leaves us with this thought:

Just imagine you had an avocado farm here in New Hampshire. It would be insane. I mean, this is not the climate for it; in order for it to work you would have to be in huge climate controlled greenhouses fighting the New Hampshire winters, and I would argue that this would not be a more sustainable choice than getting avocados where they grow naturally.

Rather, he says, a consumer should choose to purchase things when they are in season, and the local growers are not using excess energy to produce them.