LCA and the Spectre of Greenwashing

That's not exhaust, it's environmental goodness

Browse the web, the Internet has no shortage of pictures of Hollywood stars, TV personalities driving to the local cafe in hybrid-electric vehicles (HEVs).  Social capitalistic logic goes that if you see someone you admire doing some act of green, you will too right?  Many marketing departments within corporations exploits the public’s thirst for consumer goods by taking advantage of this.  Automakers will have you believe that the more you drive, the more you are saving the environment; but before we all flock to the nearing dealership and pay down a ransom to own a HEV, there are a few things to consider.  LEED practices frequently refers to an idea called life cycle assessment/analysis (LCA), which examines the environmental sustainability of an object or process (one can certainly do social sustainability, I am keeping it simple).  By concurrently examining the harvesting, production, usage and disposal phase, we find many industrial and consumer products become considerably less attractive than just examining their mere usage phase alone.

To notice greenwashing is to not simply purchase the green version of something but to think critically whether the thing—green or not—is necessary, i.e. a new HEV when a car with an smaller petrol-engine will do.  According to an article on CNW Research’s website, while the usage phase of a HEV is slightly less polluting than that of a tradition petrol-engine vehicle, its production generate GHG levels several times above that of a traditional petrol-engine vehicle, to say nothing of the environmental damage that comes from mining nickel for the battery.  Not surprisingly, most poignant of damaged Earth images is perhaps Edward Burtynsky’s series on nickel tailings in Sudbury, Ontario, shot in colour.

Well, what does this all mean?  One of my previous articles speak about reflections and this is what I mean, we need more intelligent consumers who do the research about various “green” products to find their level of real commitment to environmental sustainability.  As a final word, the CNW Research article puts the Jeep Wrangler above the Honda Civic Hybrid and Toyota’s Prius.  Just goes to show you that having a hippy commercial is not everything.


About eatonkwan

Engineer by profession, interests lie in environmental development, LEED and sustainable development.
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