I asked Tim a series of questions that talk about policy and then turn to the practice of "greenwashing," a sadly all-too-common practice by some in my profession. Greenwashing may mean different things to different people - to me it's when companies overplay their environmental efforts to obtain goodwill from an increasingly eco-conscious public. Tim had a somewhat different angle on it. Here's the Q&A.
Q: What got you interested in environmental policy?
I’ve had an inherent interest in all things political since I was a kid (kind of sick, huh?). And even though I later got my B.A. in International Relations, read newspapers regularly, and enjoyed the occasional dinnertime chats about politics, I didn’t fully nurture my fascination with “the political” until I witnessed the effects of several years of unsustainable growth in small
The growth was almost exclusively in the kind of upscale rental units, second homes, and winter getaways that are only occupied part of the year, yet guzzle resources year-round with heated driveways, 8 person spas, extensive sprinkler systems, etc.The growth drove up the cost of housing so much that middle-income folks like me couldn’t afford to live in them – let alone think about buying a home in one.
It was at about that time I decided to go back to school to re-engage with politics. Not necessarily to stop those particular problems of growth, but to explore the root causes of problems like them. Since then, my unceasing intellectual curiosity for politics has found a constructive outlet in my passion for the outdoors and desire to contribute to a healthy planet.
Q: There are plenty of ways to get involved in environmental issues. Why blog about them?
I actually started blogging as a creative outlet and to encourage regular, disciplined writing that I would ultimately use in my doctoral dissertation. I soon found that blogging was an excellent way of working out my ideas, reading what other people are writing about in energy and environmental politics, and really engaging with the issues themselves, as they are being reported and disseminated. In doing all of this, I have managed to become part of a community, connect with people of similar interests, build relationships, and even make a couple of bucks, to boot.
With that said, I think the blog medium (as well as/used in conjunction with communication tools like Twitter) is speeding the flow of information beyond what most people ever considered possible. The internet has the potential to become the Great Equalizer, with the free-flow of information limited only by the speed of one’s bandwidth. The internet has the potential to become the Great Democratizer – though it is not there yet.
Q: Who's doing better on environmental issues these days, American companies or the American government?
It is no secret that many vendors are claiming their products are now "green." But how can businesses validate whether a claim is true or just "greenwashing"?
Q: How would you define greenwashing? How serious is it, say, compared to polluting?
Q: What can be done to stop or prevent greenwashing?
- Companies shouldn’t sell themselves as green unless they can show that they actually are. This sounds silly, but unless companies are doing something significantly different, they should not go advertising about how “green” their production process is, because the chances are good it could be greener. Companies that are exposed for making dubious claims will be called out and challenged at every step by a growing army of vigilant consumers. No matter what the type of organization, if it is making some sort of environmental claim – it should have the evidence to back up that claim.
- Organizations need to continue to build certification organization accrediting standards to regulate industries worldwide. Certifying entities are perceived with even greater legitimacy when they include, not only representatives from the trade and industry groups, but scientists, consumer groups, environmentalists and labor groups, as well. This sort of self-policing may ultimately be one of the strongest deterrents greenwashing in the years to come.
- Government intervention and regulation should also play an important role in curbing greenwashing. But it must be done so in a way that discourages bloated bureaucracy and heavy-handed regulatory control.