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Beware Greenwashing Advertisements When Buying a New Home

Filed in Consumer Education , Green Living 2 comments

Promoting and labeling yourself as a green manufacturer — whether you’re legit or just faking it — has really taken off now that the green living / ecofriendly / sustainable living market has gone mainstream.

It’s become so common that current research indicates that as much as 98% of North American companies committed at least one of the Seven Sins of Greenwashing (available here as a PDF file) as defined by TerraChoice.

Unfortunately for all of us (e.g. the consumers), this lack of authenticity and a lack of regulation has severely damaged what it actually means to be green.

Green Built or GreenWashing?

Being a stickler for details, I noticed this one line comment from a Realtor who is directly benefiting from the green building trend.  She energetically states that she has seen a surge in buyer interest after mentioning her listing(s) is a green built home.

As soon as the [For Sale] sign went up that said “GREEN BUILT“, I had a flood of phone calls.

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[Fast forward to minute marker 2:19]

I’m not claiming her listing isn’t a green built home.  Far from it.  Given that this report on recession resistant jobs is from NBC News, I feel relatively confident this individual Realtor is acting accordingly.

But even if I was declaring a state of shenanigans, there isn’t an official green building certification that has yet been defined by the Federal Trade Commission.  Which makes it insanely easy for anyone to claim that their new construction home, and perhaps even an upgraded older home, is a green built/eco-friendly home.

Green Labeling Boost Sales

My main concern with a report like this, and specifically the edited comment I singled out above, could potentially give home builders and Realtors who are having a difficult time moving unsold inventory motivation to slap a “Green Built” or “Eco-Friendly” label on their listings when it isn’t true.

After all, they are people just like everyone else.  They’ve got families to feed and bills that need to be paid.  When put under a copious amount of stress, it’s only natural to that some will succumb to the pressures of cutting corners.

Combine this with an insufficiently educated consumer and the ease of slapping a green label on nearly any product… we’ve got problems.

Protecting Yourself from False Green Built Claims

Naturally, the best way to protect yourself from being duped as a consumer is to educate yourself about the home you want to buy.

Here are a few tips:

  1. Ask for certifications. If the home builder or Realtor does not belong to a nationally recognized organization, ask how and why they are making an eco-friendly claim. If they are certified, don’t immediately assume their paperwork is legitimate.  Do some digging of your own to verify their claims, and the validity of their certifications.
  2. Don’t be an undereducated consumer.  Do some investigating of your own to confirm that what they’re telling you is actually true. If you’re about to make an investment of several hundred thousand dollars, shouldn’t you get the maximum value for your dollar as possible?
  3. Don’t fall for the window dressing.  Just because they use nontoxic paint or installed insulation with a R-value above what the local building code requires, don’t assume the house is 100% green. Very few homes (if any) can be 100% green, so when you’re listening to a long list of stats about how great their product is, keep your suspicions up.  Taking notes might help too.
  4. Energy efficient products alone isn’t enough.  Quality and workmanship are always paramount when buying a new home.  So it’s entirely possible to have the best insulating triple paned windows on the market, but a small leak around the windowsill will negate their efficacy.  It’s best to think of your house as a energy efficient system, rather than a combination of green products.

The more you know, the more questions you can ask.  And the more questions you can ask, the better chances you have of spotting a false claim or being overly impressed by fluff advertising.

Have you come across a “green built” home? Did you find the advertising to be misleading, or was it legit? Did it influence your decision to walk through the property one that did not?

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Posted by CJ   @   14 July 2009 2 comments
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Jul 14, 2009
3:09 pm
#1 Donnie :

While not defined by the FTC, the US Green Building Council’s LEED standards and certification appear to be setting the bar.

If I was going to buy a “green” home, the first thing I would ask would be to see their LEED AP credentials, and possibly if they have an example of a LEED certified home.

Jul 14, 2009
4:25 pm
#2 SJ :

I like the ka-CHING! sound. And 30k in SF is terrible lol…

(Sorry not looking for a house anytime soon but it’s funny vid =) )

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