Green Design vs Greenwashing

Green Design

Green design means designing with the whole life cycle of the product in mind (not just thinking about how the product performs). Green designers look at the entire chain of production, from mining and processing, to manufacturing, use, and disposal. They seek to eliminate or minimize the negative impacts and incorporate sustainable practices, like using materials that won’t become waste when the products are recycled, but can be “closed loop” recycled back into new products.

Learn more about green design and green engineering.


The problem is that while many companies claim to make green products, what we really see is more greenwashing than green design. What’s greenwashing? Think whitewashing, but with green paint. It’s when companies use their ads and marketing campaigns to mislead consumers, by overstating claims of their environmental performance.  Vague terms like “eco-friendly,” or “environmentally preferable” are sometimes used to make products seem greener than they are.

Greenwashing Examples:

Lead free TVs. When flat panel TVs began to replace tube TVs (which contain several pound of lead) the new TVs were sometimes marketed at “lead-free.” Sounds good, right? Lead is a toxic chemical, so lead-free must be good.  But the companies failed to mention that they were now using lamps containing mercury, a highly toxic chemical.

Energy efficient computers. Companies are eager to tout reductions in energy use of their computers. Any energy saving is good, but research shows that more than 80% of the energy consumption over the lifecycle of the computer occurs in production – before you even get it home. So these claims are misleading people into thinking the products have low energy impacts when really the energy used in making them is still very high. Even worse, they encourage people to buy new, “more energy efficient” computers. But considering the energy needed to make the new ones, hanging on to the old one a little longer clearly has the lower overall carbon footprint.

Read more about how power consumption of our high-tech devices is hugely underestimated in the article, “The monster footprint of digital technology.”

Learn more about corporate greenwashing strategies from the “Sins of Greenwashing” report.

Are we green yet?
Increasingly consumers are looking for green electronics products these days, but the electronics industry has a long way to go before they can really call their products green. Some companies have taken some positive steps in phasing out certain toxic chemicals. >> Examples: See report on “Greening Consumer Electronics.”  But overall, this is an industry using very toxic chemicals, particularly in production, as well as consuming many other limited resources, like energy, water, and rare earth metals. In fact, a UN study found that making a computer and a monitor takes at least 240 kg (530 pounds) of fossil fuels, 22 kg (48 pounds) of chemicals and 1.5 metric tons of water ‐ more than the weight of a rhinoceros or a car.