Thursday, August 18, 2011

Google Using Blatant Greenwash To Promote New Catalog App

Google launched its Google Catalogs app this week with a shiny coat of greenwash.

"A Greener Way to Shop" proclaims the new product's promotional page, providing no substantiation for the claim.

"With Google Catalogs, you can subscribe to paperless versions of all your favorite catalogs," the page states.

Oh, so switching to information that's stored in energy-sucking data centers and then transmitted over the coal-fired Internet to devices containing a variety of toxic materials is environmentally sustainable simply because it involves no paper -- a recyclable product made mostly from renewable materials? C'mon, Google, a sophisticated company that has put so much effort into real sustainability initiatives should know better than that.

"Environmental marketing claims that include a comparative statement should be presented in a manner that makes the basis for the comparison sufficiently clear to avoid consumer deception," states the Federal Trade Commission's voluntary anti-greenwash guidelines. "In addition, the advertiser should be able to substantiate the comparison."

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Rick said...

Just for clarity, there are published life cycle analysis reports that demonstrate that consumption of fiber based media (such as newspapers or catalogs in this case) can be the more environmentally preferable choice. Google should at least clarify the conditions under which the electronic consumption might be preferable.

Don said...

I agree that there should be a link to a comparison that supports Google's claim that the e-catalogue is greener.

That being said you shouldn't be bashing the e-versions without having your own link to an empirical comparison by an *independent* third party showing the paper versions are greener. There are alot of variables like:

Where did the paper come from? Is it FSC or PEFC certified? Were soy inks used and if so are they non-GMO? Does the mill and/or printer use sustainable prictices? Where does the mill/printers energy come from?

Granted computers are toxic. That being said most of us already have computers. Are people buying computers specifically to avoid printed products? I don't think so.

Bottom line: it's complicated and there should be a comparison given no matter which side of the issue you are on.


Frank Locantore said...

Thanks, Don, for the grounding - it is complicated. Does anyone know if Gil Friend's research comparing digital v. print is complete? I saw him do a presentation with Lewis Fix of Domtar at the CRO Summit in Chicago last year and the message was nuanced. It would be good have that info.

Patty said...

Here's some independent information from The Forests Dialogue, which is an "on-going, civil society driven, multi-stakeholder dialogue
platform and process to address important global forestry issues."

If you look on page 14, you will find that they have recommended that we should "promote ... the increased used of forest products as (an) important climate change mitigation strategy."

This organizations involves continued discussion with some 250 leaders from all sectors worldwide - governments, conservation organizations, business - the ones who participated in this report are listed at the end.

Papyrus said...

I think the basic premise of this article is fair, that Google may not technically be in compliance with the voluntary FTC guidelines. However, I would welcome a fair, honest comparison of the impact of spending 30 minutes online, using perhaps 1/10000000 of the utility that is provided by that device over its lifetime, and therefore that portion of the impact of its production could be counted towards the shopping activity...vs....the harvest, production, printing, shipping, and end of life impacts of 30 minutes with a paper catalog . But, really, I don't think we can really solve the question by approaching it that way. Its apples to oranges, and the world is not that black and white. We need renewable energy data centers, powering completely recyclable electronics sourced in the most responsible way possible. We need paper sometimes made from recycled or responsibly sourced virgin fiber. We need to keep on working to get both these products there. And be smart and efficient about how we use them along the journey.

Don't get me wrong, thumbing through the beautiful recycled paper catalog from Patagonia is one of my favorite semi-annual activities, and I continue to receive it.