In the face of complexity, many people conclude that sustainability is impossible to define, or that the use of the term is so broad that it means nothing. The SHP holds that sustainability certainly is a complex topic but that it is not at all beyond comprehension or definition. One way to attempt a definition of sustainability is by describing what sustainability is; another way is to determine what sustainability isn’t.
How do we do attempt the latter?
One interesting project to help us evaluate claims of sustainability is the Greenwashing Index. This web-based tool is a project of the Enviromedia Social Marketing and the University of Oregon, and has three goals:
- 1) Help consumers become more savvy about evaluating environmental marketing claims of advertisers.
2) Hold businesses accountable to their environmental marketing claims.
3) Stimulate the market and demand for sustainable business practices that truly reduce the impact on the environment.
Greenwashing is “whitewashing, but with a green brush”: businesses that inflate their environmental credentials to obscure environmentally harmful activities.
The Greenwashing Index is a forum where anyone can contribute to evaluations of business practices. Through this community input, these practices are rated on a 1-5 scale of “Authentic” or “Bogus” green claims. This project achieves some of the critical elements of the SHP’s definition of sustainability because it provides quantifiable metrics and because it’s open & participatory.