Kermit the Frog must be in his glory, what with all the green products being directed at consumers lately.Advertisers would have you believe you can drive your Toyota Prius hybrid to Whole Foods, or Wal-Mart for that matter, to buy General Electric's energy efficient
It's a recurring subject on green-oriented blogs. Witness a discussion on
Treehugger earlier this year on the green-washing of Procter & Gamble's ( PG) Swiffer. But if you want to spend your dollars in ways that will keep you and the planet healthier, ways that will reward the companies that have a green leg to stand on, how do you go about it? For one thing, you can look for companies that really stand to gain from their green endeavors. Environmental purists scoff when a company makes a highly publicized green move that it clearly benefits from -- say Wal-Mart's use of energy-efficient lighting in its stores (which saves it a ton of money) or GE's push into products like wind turbines and clean water technologies (which will make it a ton of money). But I say, get real. More often than not, becoming environmentally responsible means being more conscientious, changing ingrained habits and foregoing the race to the bottom where everything is as cheap and convenient as it can possibly be. But something is not inherently greener just because it involves sacrifice. Individuals and corporations alike are more likely to stick to their new environmentally friendly behaviors if they get something tangible from them. To me, one sign that something is just green-washing rather than genuinely green is that it doesn't change anything very much. The company hasn't made a major investment that it stands to significantly gain from, nor is it challenging the consumer to try something that's substantially new, like driving a hybrid car. It's PepsiCo's Frito-Lay selling Natural Cheetos alongside the regular kind. Selling more wind turbines doesn't absolve General Electric of past environmental slights (its PCBs are still sitting at the bottom of the Hudson) or of being responsible in other areas of its business -- say, manufacturing jet engines. But it does make the company more likely to push for commercial and regulatory conditions conducive to using wind power. And that's worth a few bucks for the company and its shareholders. After all, if we don't start somewhere, we won't get anywhere. Next week: More tips for using your dollars in a more environmentally responsible way.