The House We Live In: Eco-Marketing
by Amy Knight

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A Series on Building the Sustainable Home in Tucson, Arizona


Like most people, I’d like to think of myself as someone who isn’t easily fooled. I recognize scams when I see them. I refuse to be up-sold. I’m a lawyer, for Pete’s sake. Naiveté is not a quality I covet. But this week I found myself alarmingly close to being sucked in without even realizing it.

I showed Matthew some countertops I’d read about as being eco-friendly and he looked at it and basically told me he thought they were regular resin countertops like he’s used in labs for years that included some paper, which could be recycled, as a relatively minor component along with the resin, which is itself not especially eco-friendly.  One company got the bright idea of using as much recycled paper as possible for the paper component and slapping the “Green” label on them. Are they bad? No. But are they especially green? Maybe not.

Companies have figured out that people want to do the right thing or look or feel like they’re doing the right thing, and that there are plenty of us out here who are willing to pay, and that consequently there’s money to be made in marketing their products as green or eco-friendly.

Which doesn’t mean that they are – it’s really not regulated. It’s even less regulated than foods telling you they are healthy or “light” (not to mention “lite”), where at least the FDA has some say in what can be labeled as natural, and there are standards for things like organic labeling.

Of course there are some real standards out there for environmental concerns – EnergyStar, WaterSense. And there is the LEED program (a topic for another day). But for the most part, anyone can call their products green or eco-friendly if they want to.

And I’d fallen for it. I hadn’t even questioned it. Recycled paper instead of stone or marble or concrete? Great! Let’s do it! I’d gotten carried away in their marketing and set aside my critical faculties.

This isn’t to say that I won’t use those countertops. I still might. Composite of any kind is probably greener than natural materials that have to be extracted from the earth. But it was a good reminder that I need to do my research and pay attention. There are more alternatives out there. I shouldn’t just believe what I read, especially from people who are selling something.  The weaknesses I’ve identified in myself during this process, including concern about appearances and getting credit for what I’m doing, are not unique and companies exploit them for financial gain. I knew that, of course, but somehow I’d forgotten, or hadn’t realized how it would look when I encountered it in the wild.

So here I am, humbled. I have my work cut out for me.



Amy Knight is the fiction editor for Terrain.org. In this weekly blog series, she chronicles the process of designing and building an eco-friendly house in Tucson, Arizona. The series will explore both how it’s done and what it means, from the perspective of someone who wants to do the right thing but knows almost nothing about sustainable building. Look for new posts every Monday. You can email Amy at [email protected] or leave a comment here.

Photo credit: Lush via photopin (license)

Terrain.org is the world’s first online journal of place, publishing a rich mix of literature, artwork, case studies, and more since 1997.