Some consumer greenwashing to look out for

Greenwashing is the process of conveying a false impression that you’re doing something good for the environment. This usually comes in the form of misrepresentation of either how bad something is, or how good something is. Lately I’ve been assailed by greenwashing for solar products because I’ve been researching it a lot for my house. We’re going to start there and move on to some other things.

Should point out, I have been an impact environmentalist since I was a kid. Just ticks me off to see misrepresentation of good that you can actually do.

Solar gadgetry

Going to start with solar. This will be about consumer electronics, gadget stuff. Not actual panels that are a long term profitable and sustainable investment (although the market is filled with scams.) Different categories here. Big solar = generally good. Small solar = generally bad/not worth it (in my opinion).

Poweradd 7W Foldable Solar Panel Charger
Ye Olden Solar panel days

Let’s talk solar phone chargers first off. Let me be clear, there’s an actual use case or two for these – 1) in an emergency, and 2) when you’re camping for a few days. That’s it as a use case for the vast majority of people. Panels charge slowly, need a battery if you’re not plugging your phone/device in directly, and generally require you to put them somewhere with the panel aimed at the sun and leave.

The presented use case in advertising beyond that is save the planet by charging your phone from the sun. Er, yeah, we’re talking a $50 solar panel you have to leave out in the wild or babysit that saves you $0.06-$0.54 a year on cell phone charging a year. Using these non-stop every sunny day you’ll see a return on investment in maybe 30-100 years. If the components in the solar panel survive that long (which they won’t.)

On the environmental side you’ve got the manufacturing impact, which considering it’s a chunk of plastic, wires, circuitry, and sand made overseas, shipped halfway around the world probably, can’t even begin to calculate that. The internal converters last a few years, they’re consumer electronic grade, you shouldn’t expect a full time use panel you got from Amazon to last particularly long, and even if the panel does how long will the cables survive?

So, not green at the consumer electronics level. Not an investment. Use case is emergencies and camping where you can set it up and get full sun all day. Great at that. Did you save the planet or even help? No. Got something to charge your phone or camera up while you’re camping or after a major power outage event? Yup.

Do I have fun with the solar panels I have charging batteries I use to mow my lawn? Yup. With the 25 pounds of consumer electronics required to make this happen have I helped a bit? Nope.

USB Rechargeable batteries

This is a great concept for those who use a lot of batteries. The claims are that every rechargeable battery keeps so many out of landfills and recycling. The numbers are usually in the 1000 range as some companies claim. We did a few reviews on these things, got roughly the equivalent of 6 charges before three of the 4 AA batteries degraded to nearly useless.

Dead Batteries from https://www.flickr.com/photos/johnseb/2457508491
1 USB rechargeable battery should be able to replace every one of these, but generally doesn’t

There’s a whole story I haven’t published about what happened when I contacted their customer support and them deleting my comments on their Facebook advertisement showing they weren’t responding to support, but we’ll cover/publish that another day.

I’ll be clear here, the issue is that most people do not have the ability to tell a good battery from a piece of garbage. You get a good USB rechargeable battery, it replaces 1000 batteries, you’ve helped. You get a bad battery, don’t realize that your battery shouldn’t be dying every 3 weeks, write a 5-star review about how fast it charges and you’re recharging it once a month for your TV remote, you’re contributing to greenwashing and the production and sales of garbage.

I have had four separate brands of USB rechargeable batteries I’ve had in my possession to review. They’ve universally been garbage. Between inconsistent voltage and inability to hold a charge past a couple of weeks all these things did was cost someone $40 for $1.15 worth of battery power. You think recycling batteries is hard on the environment? Try recycling USB rechargeable batteries.

Power saving conditioners

See one of those things that “big utility doesn’t want you to know about?” – they’re usually “proven” to work by using a power meter plugged into the wall and the same style power meter plugged into something behind whatever device they’re selling. The power meter behind whatever the conditioner / amplifier / whatever will magically show that more power is reaching the plug through the magic of whatever they’re calling it.

There are a variety of ways these work and make it appear that more power is coming out the other end, but there isn’t. Oh yeah, a power meter is showing more bigger power, but is it biglier? Nope. Device doesn’t exist. You don’t think that device would be employed by private power companies to generate more electric and pump up their profits?

Fuel additives / different octane gas

Your car is a computer. Does your fuel additive or incorrect octane gas have tuning chips that tell your engine how to process the modified fuel? Did you attach a magnet to a fuel line thinking this was how to beat big oil? My favorite “spins” the fuel. Too many of these to go into all the pseudoscience. You’ll get a green effect by driving better, using the correct gas, keeping your tires at the right inflation.

Eco friendly containers / wraps

I’m at a point where I’m at odds with my wife on this one – it’s marketed as eco friendly reusable storage bag being sold by a major chain store for $4 that replaces hundreds of sandwich bags with 6. Cost about $4, you get a pack of reusable sandwich bags, but really at this point what are we supposed to do with the remaining 400 feet of plastic wrap and/or sandwich bags for the kids?

The above represents $1.30 of reusable sandwich bag. Price wise the equiv of 47 double zipper bags, which each can be reused if you just remember to reuse them

Psst – you can reuse an existing sandwich bag. I do it all the time. My oldest kiddo returns her environmentally unfriendly sandwich bag and I rinse it out and re-use it. I believe our streak was somewhere about 40 uses on an environmentally unfriendly bag. Re-usable sheets/containers sold with the intent to replace plastic wrap? Er, you can re-use plastic wrap, re-seal it.

Electric cars

Mostly just putting this here so someone will try and come fight me without reading this, but they’re generally not greenwashing. There existed a time when the environmental footprint of these outweighed the benefits, but with increased renewable energy production, increased manufacturing efficiencies, better battery tech, etc, they’re now significantly less of an energy or pollution burden.

There exists also that with how they’re generally used you also reduce needs for more gas stations (as most people can top off their charge with a standard electric outlet,) which lowers all sorts of potential spills, etc. They also evidently are 1/11th as likely to catch fire but can I find that study today? Nope.

Don’t replace a perfectly good thing with a “green” thing

Use it until it’s done, recycle/dispose of properly, move on to greener pastures. Don’t get the green thing and chuck the steamy pink thing. You know what to do.

Know what your impact is – learn how big the energy requirements are to use, manufacture, etc. If you don’t know what you’re using how can you know what you’re saving? That’s what a lot of these companies are banking on as they wrap themselves up in a message they’re not really participating in.

And really, reuse sandwich bags – seriously don’t know what is up with people.

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Paul E King

Paul King started with GoodAndEVO in 2011, which merged with Pocketables, and as of 2018 he's evidently the owner. He lives in Nashville, works at a film production company, is married with two kids. Facebook | Twitter | Donate | More posts by Paul | Subscribe to Paul's posts