I want to punch climate change in the face. A blog about the interactions between the built environment, people, and nature. - FAQs - Follow - Face - Ask - Donations - Climate Book Store

Recent Tweets @climatecote
Posts tagged "greenwashing"

Not my usual climate post. But, BMW is #1.

Asker newsfromthe Asks:
I've been following you on tumblr for some time. Consistently impressed. Your take on Zolli - spot on. Sometimes I think if you string enough big words together you can fool most of the people a lot of the time. And considering the speaking fee dollars involved, it seems to be a trick a lot of people are willing to try.
climateadaptation climateadaptation Said:

Hi newsfromthe!

Thanks for your nice note of support. You’re referring to this post, where I briefly describe how one tech guru, Andrew Zolli, is exploiting the science of adaptation, resilience, and adaptation for short-term profit. He “wrote” a messy, jargon filled op-ed in today’s NYTimes.

To my mind, Zolli is on the path to perfecting greenwashing. I agree with the idea that my field needs more exposure. But, I believe that tech gurus like Zolli are doing a disservice by monetizing, synergizing, and other popular “izings” the serious science and policy responses needed to conserve, preserve, manage, and live with our dwindling natural environment.

Environmentalists need to take note.



A shift from sustainability to resilience leaves many old-school environmentalists and social activists feeling uneasy, as it smacks of adaptation, a word that is still taboo in many quarters. If we adapt to unwanted change, the reasoning goes, we give a pass to those responsible for putting us in this mess in the first place, and we lose the moral authority to pressure them to stop. Better, they argue, to mitigate the risk at the source.

In a perfect world, that’s surely true, just as it’s also true that the cheapest response to a catastrophe is to prevent it in the first place. But in this world, vulnerable people are already being affected by disruption. They need practical, if imperfect, adaptations now, if they are ever to get the just and moral future they deserve tomorrow.

Unfortunately, the sustainability movement’s politics, not to mention its marketing, have led to a popular misunderstanding: that a perfect, stasis-under-glass equilibrium is achievable. But the world doesn’t work that way: it exists in a constant disequilibrium — trying, failing, adapting, learning and evolving in endless cycles. Indeed, it’s the failures, when properly understood, that create the context for learning and growth. That’s why some of the most resilient places are, paradoxically, also the places that regularly experience modest disruptions: they carry the shared memory that things can go wrong.

“Resilience” takes this as a given and is commensurately humble. It doesn’t propose a single, fixed future. It assumes we don’t know exactly how things will unfold, that we’ll be surprised, that we’ll make mistakes along the way. It’s also open to learning from the extraordinary and widespread resilience of the natural world, including its human inhabitants, something that, counterintuitively, many proponents of sustainability have ignored.

Forget Sustainability. It’s About Resilience. - Andrew Zolli via

I don’t subscribe to Zolli's guru-esque ways. I was asked to review his book, Resilience, (thank you PopTech!) but couldn’t get through the first chapter and cancelled the contract.

I am ruefully thankful for Zolli’s open thinking on the topics of adaptation, resilience, and sustainability. The upside is that he’s introducing the buzz words of my field into mainstream thinking. Sort of like how Malcom Gladwell introduced us to the (myth) that one becomes an expert once you’ve spent “10,000 hours" practicing your chosen area of interest, like golf, or computer programming.

My problem with Zolli (besides his undergraduate-ish, jargon-heavy writing style) is that he sees resilience, adaptation, and sustainability as theories that should be exploited for profit. He’s sees them as methods to sell gizmos, to be utilized to help businesses “succeed.” Mentioning Hurricane Sandy in the above op-ed, for example, is seen, from his perspective, as an “opportunity.”

I dissent.

I find Zolli to be (perhaps unwittingly) on the path to perfecting greenwashing.

Environmentalists and researchers should find Zolli’s exploitation deeply disturbing, even appalling. Increasing the profits of private corporations are not the purpose of these theories - it’s environmental protection. Adaptation, resilience, and sustainability are theories that scientists hope will be utilized to increase the health of our natural environment.

These theories also foster hope and inspiration in students. They help young people learn to explore and respect nature and earth’s incredible (fucking astounding!) diversity of species. And, as the original scientists of these theories have said, these theories ought to be employed to create cleaner development practices of our dwindling natural resources. They should not be bastardized by swindlers and charlatans.

Zolli is enabling greenwashing. And environmentalists should not allow him to get away with it.

(via underpaidgenius)

I hesitated reblogging this because 1) the sound quality is terrible 2) the presenter is difficult to understand (beyond the sound issues) and 3) she comes from the corporate-greenwashing-side of the resilience/adaptation side of the table, which to my very critical ear means she’s just peddling another widget.

But, her company’s maps help identify environmental and health impacts from regular distribution and resource extraction (e.g., supply chain management). There are a lot of sexy visuals - charts, graphs, maps, and videos - but no people, no case studies, no proof of product.

She doesn’t show how her business helps people, she only states that she does help. Nice try though. Most business people (in my experience) don’t have a basic understanding of their company’s health/enviro impacts beyond the fact that labeling something green increases their bottom line.

What do you think?


“We can really start telling a story in terms of predicting risk in the future…We are actually able to engage in policy change to be able to shape the future growth environment and prevent disaster.”

Watch now: Alyson Warhurst is CEO and founder of the risk analysis and mapping company Maplecroft, the leading source of extra-financial risk intelligence for the world’s largest multinational corporations, asset managers and governments. 

Lovely followers, does anyone have data or a before/after study that shows greenroofs have actually lowered temps in a city? Msg me here.

Toronto becomes first city to mandate green roofs

Toronto is the first city in North America with a bylaw that requires roofs to be green. And we’re not talking about paint. A green roof, also known as a living roof, uses various hardy plants to create a barrier between the sun’s rays and the tiles or shingles of the roof. The plants love the sun, and the building (and its inhabitants) enjoy more comfortable indoor temperatures as a result.

Toronto’s new legislation will require all residential, commercial and institutional buildings over 2,000 square meters to have between 20 and 60 percent living roofs. Although it’s been in place since early 2010, the bylaw will apply to new industrial development as of April 30, 2012. While this is the first city-wide mandate involving green roofs, Toronto’s decision follow’s in the footsteps of other cities, like Chicago and New York.

Under the direction of Mayor Richard Daley the city of Chicago put a 38,800 square foot green roof on a 12 story skyscraper in 2000. Twelve years later, that building now saves $5000 annually on utility bills, and Chicago boasts 7 million square feet of green roof space. New York has followed suit, and since planting a green roof on the Con Edison Learning Centre in Queens, the buildings managers have seen a 34 percent reduction of heat loss in winter, and reduced summer heat gain by 84 percent.

But lower utility bills aren’t the only benefit of planting a living roof. In addition to cooling down the city, green roofs create cleaner air, cleaner water, and provide a peaceful oasis for people, birds and insects in an otherwise polluted, concrete and asphalt-covered environment.

(via thesustainablelife)

Thanks man! Below, The Callus responds to me about GM’s new green campaign. The issue ties into GM contacting me to plug their green campaign called “Carbon Stories” on my tumblr. I posted something last month about it, publicly questioning various aspects of their intent and sincerity. Privately, though, I complained to their PR contact that 1) the public would be confused by some of the content, and 2) that enviros would double down and criticize GM on hypocritical grounds. In addition to Carbon Stories videos, GM is now labeling some cars as being environmentally friendly. USA Today’s Wendy Koch covered the labeling issue, calling into question effectiveness.

Have a read below, and follow thecallus


You talkin’ ‘bout the car or the cash?

The excellent author of Climate Adaptation asked for my take on GM’s new green branding. Specifically, GM is rolling out new labeling on its Chevrolet brand, starting with the Chevy Sonic. The label is designed to indicate that the manufacturing processes used to produce the car are “green”:

The company said the Ecologic label, which will appear on the rear driver-side window, is the first of its kind in the automotive industry to detail how a vehicle is made, saves fuel and can be recycled. In the Sonics’ case, it says the engine and transmission are built in a factory that sends zero waste to landfills, and its final assembly plant (located in the U.S.) is cooled and heated 20% by landfill gas. Also, it says about 85% of the car is recyclable.

Do you have any idea if those statistics indicate that the car is “green”? I haven’t the faintest clue. My suspicion is that neither do consumers. The most likely outcome, cognitively, when certain people see the labeling is to preference the green products without much of a basis for comparison. We see this time and again with Energy Star labels or “certified organic” labels, which are often subverted to drive marginal profit rather than eco-conscious consumption.

So why is GM doing this in the first place? It’s pretty easy to accuse GM of maybe using this label to eke some more margin out of its Sonic, which is a low-end car in a traditionally-weak segment for domestic automakers. The likes of the Aveo and Focus have traditionally been unable to take on Fits, Accents, Versas, Civics, Souls, Corollas, etc. because of GM’s higher price points. It also burnishes that “Buy American” cred while enhancing the General’s Volt-lead (and entirely unearned) “green” branding.

Maybe it isn’t so bad; after all, a label is a good step toward consumer education about how their cars are made. Of course, they chose Chevy because Cadillacs get assembled in Mexico - I wonder how that sucker gets refrigerated? This is the sort of thing that should be imposed on manufacturers globally and incorporated into trade discussions. Without standards, selective labeling is more about deception than education. It’s about getting 20-somethings who want to “be green” to pick a Chevy Sonic over cheaper options with better gas mileage and powerful brand histories of reliability and safety.

After all, GM’s Chinese growth in its joint venture with SAIC is a big story too. Less so the pollution pouring into the sky over China, and how Chinese corporations in conjunction with Western partners helped kill the Kyoto Protocol. I’m not inclined to believe that a company with a history of lobbying with Exxon against international anti-pollution agreements is somehow reformed thanks to a car no one buys with a lithium-ion battery that destroys the environment and a couple of green stickers on cherry-picked best-behavior cars. You still make all your money on big cars, Detroit; don’t blow green smoke up my tailpipe.

In other, more obvious words, color me skeptical.

(via thecallus-deactivated20130520)

McDonald’s is among the most important food companies in the world, and one could argue that it and Walmart are the true pace-setters: what they do, others will do. When McDonald’s bans gestation crates, gestation crates will go bye-bye. If McDonald’s were to have a hit with a spot-on non-meat offering, you’d see something similar, lickety-split, at Burger King. If McDonald’s announced it was using organic milk for its coffee (as it does in Britain) or cage-free eggs for McMuffins (also a British practice), you’d see that happening everywhere. If McDonald’s were to pay its workers a dollar more than minimum wage, minimum wage in the restaurant industry would effectively go up.

"Even as Walmart has been hyping its supposed environmental epiphany, it has continued to unroll vast, low-rise supercenters at breakneck speed. Since launching its sustainability campaign in 2005, Walmart has expanded the amount of store space it operates in the U.S. by 32 percent. It’s added more than 1,100 new supercenters, almost all built on land that hadn’t been developed before Walmart showed up. The chain now has 698 million square feet of store space in the U.S., up from 530 million in 2005, plus another 287 million around the globe. Its U.S. stores and parking lots cover roughly 60,000 acres.”


I’m just back from Chicago where I helped run a workshop on adaptation. One of our speakers was Karen Weigert, the Chief Sustainability Officer of the City of Chicago. She spoke mostly about the benefits of greening the city.

After her talk, I asked her about all the sponsors of Millennium Park. Specifically, how does the City square the concept of sustainability with a park that is sponsored by large companies like AT&T, Boeing, BP, and McDonald’s? After all, they could leave at anytime or at the end of their contract. She responded that the value of land and condos in surrounding neighborhoods were rising. She was nice, and the exchange was cordial, but with all due respect I still don’t understand how the park can be exemplified as “sustainable.”

In any case, I’m glad to see Utne taking up this issue of cities depending on sponsors. What happens in 10 years when the sponsor leaves?

Cash-strapped state parks are forging partnerships with corporations to close their budget gaps:

In New York, for example, Nestle’s Juicy Juice contributed $350,000 to build playgrounds in seven state parks. In California, Coca-Cola and Stater Bros. Markets have raised about $1.9 million to support reforestation and other state park preservation efforts. And in Georgia, Verizon Wireless contributed $5,000 to cover the cost of park passes for the state’s annual Free Day at the park. Most of these efforts come with recognition—on a playground sign, on a park pass—of the corporation’s contribution.

The trend has already spawned the creation of a new breed of middleman: A California firm called Government Solutions Group has brokered about $7.5 million in such deal since 2004. Chief executive Shari Boyer tells Governing that this is not philanthropy but business: “These are partnerships. The corporation has to get something out of it.”

Keep reading …

Great business idea - getting employees outside for a dinner. Looks hella expensive.  



Check out this photo gallery of a company whose goal is to get people back to nature and embrace its beauty… Truly outstanding!

We’ve pretty much been dying to get to an Outstanding in the Field dinner since we first heard of them. Unfortunately, those events don’t cater to journalists’ budgets. And our request for a press pass back in summer 2007 went unanswered. 

A blasphemous post by humanscalecities, whom you should follow now


Eco-cities have appeared for some time as the promise to bring sustainability to cities. They are presented as integrated projects to construct Utopian spaces for the development of a new inhabitable areas that fully comply with the requirements of reduced CO2 emissions (zero emissions), and less waste (zero waste), etc. They embody an optimistic vision (an urban structure can be built which is capable of sustaining itself and maintaining a systematic balance in its ecological operations) but also a pessimistic vision (sustainability is impossible to achieve in an already constructed city and it is not worth making an effort to solve the unsustainable current urban model). Some internationally well known cases can be found, such as Masdar or Dongtan (the latter city, suspected of only being propaganda), presented as mega-projects, and others on a smaller scale in urban regeneration processes, such as the well known case of Hammarby Sjöstad (eco-neighbourhoods), and in all cases they are built on a sustainable ideal. The  Manual for the eco-cities project in Europe, result of the Eco-city project, is a good guide to understand how this type of action is interpreted, although this case above all refers to a neighbourhood scale.

In the newly published book by Earthscan, Building for a climate change. The Challenge for Construction, Planning and Energy, I have found a  very critical chapter with the current boom in eco-cities (or eco-towns) as an integrated urban development, based on sustainability criteria. The chapter (Eco-towns: opportunity or oxymoron) focuses on justifying how the British authorities have systematically rejected this kind of projects. In an important debate held almost two years ago (limited to the British case, but of general interest), Simon Jenkins, a journalist specialized in urban and architectural subjects at The Guardian, stated clearly where the problem lies and closed a comprehensive article (Eco-towns are the greatest try-on in the history of property speculation) with a particularly scathing comment: “Building new houses emits 4.5 times more carbon than rehabilitating old ones, new eco-towns are a big failure”. Dermot Finch, director of the Centre for Cities wrote similar arguments some days later in Eco-towns are not the answer to climate change or housing needs and even Richard Rogers himself replied in the same newspaper, supporting these critical approaches and suggesting that the authorities should give up the idea of supporting the construction of a series of eco-cities in the country. Despite this controversy, finally at the end of 2009 the British government supported the construction of four eco-towns, with the opposition, among others, of the Campaign to Protect Rural England.


Look at the below FAIL. To be sure, the notion of Smart Cities is (sort of) catching steam. But, as the below announcement demonstrates, promoters and sponsors have some serious PR issues to the point of cognitive dissonance. 


Open Source Cities

Citizen Urbanism. Ecological Design. Urban Planning.
Open Data and Collaboration for the Future of Cities.

Launching Q1, 2011. For more information:
info {at}

This is one example of an upstart launch FAIL by something called Open Source Cities. As a citizen, you should question everything and be empowered with knowledge before committing to this crap. Here’s how I questioned this project: 

The Open Source Cities website is “Launching Q1, 2011.” Click the link to see. Now, how many citizens know what “Q1” is? Not many. Nor, I assure you, do citizens give a spinning shit. Why do the proprietors of this website not know this? Because they didn’t bother to talk to any citizens

Also, the notion of “open source” is citizen driven. It’s by the people. It’s not sponsor driven. It’s not a for-profit endeavor. So why is this project edited by liberal elitists, and sponsored by some greenwashed server-hosting bs company, and NOT by actual citizens?? Again, click the link to see the sponsors. What gives?

(Note: I’m not criticizing liberal elites per se. I’m pointing out that you cannot have “open source” anything run by backslapping journalists and designers with no clue as to actual city planning. Nor can you run an “open source” project by a for-profit corporate sponsor who is obviously trolling to expand its customer base. To put in plainly, it’s not credible.).

Before I discuss property rights, let me rant about this this Q1 business. If, as these insiders assume, citizens care and even understand municipal fiscal clocks, by whose “Q1” clock are they referring to?? New York State’s fiscal year starts April 1st and ends March 31st. New York City’s starts and ends July 1-June 30. If you’re a regional planning agency, how do you square those two clocks with Brooklyn’s 2012-2015 fiscal planning clock? How do citizens interested in city planning understand and navigate these fiscal clocks? And why is this important? Open Source is silent.

There are 10,000 municipalities in the US, add thousands of counties operating under various state mandates, and all use different fiscal clocks. So, “by whose Q1?” is pretty solid question. There is a NYTimes reporter on this project, is this going by the NYTimes fiscal Q1 clock? Why? Why are they even using Q1? This shuts down conversation. Especially if you’re supposed to be ushering Joe and Jane citizens - who are hella busy - to get involved with city planning and economic development.

You cannot subsume knowledge on behalf of half-interested citizens. Not to mention there are hundreds (perhaps thousands?) of regional, quasi-public/private, private, not-for-profit, planning, housing and economic development agencies and organizations who also use different fiscal clocks. And on and on. You cannot use ‘Q1’ and escape being called out on weaselly designery elitism. 

Finally, where, of their sponsors, is Joe and Jane “citizen” in their “Citizen Urbanism” moniker? Architectural firms?! Pssssshh. I can’t even… I. I, I don’t… ARRGG!! 

This isn’t open source, nor is it citizen driven. It’s privatized, for-profit city consulting. Private organizations are grabbing tax payer dollars to ‘consult’ with cities for unproven economic development.

And don’t get me started on demographics - as in how are they going to represent my grandmother, who has no access to a computer? Or immigrants? Or the poor? Or expats? Or single moms? Or the creative class? Or 18 year old college freshman? These clowns have no demonstrable experience in city planning.

Why am I ranting? Because these crack pots are fucking with people’s property rights. These people are going to try to change zoning regulations and building codes and do so at tax payer expense and ride into the sunset with your money. It’s serious business. People’s property isn’t some fucking techie toy. Cities are not sand boxes to experiment in.

If they were, then these sponsoring organizations should take full responsibility for any economic failures they usher into fruition. They should contractually sign away liability, be immune to quasi-sovereign immunity claims, openly report under SEC rules, and be open to all causes of action. By taking responsibility for outcomes, their work becomes truly open and more carefully crafted. Importantly, they don’t leave citizens holding the short end of the stick, especially if a select few vote to change their neighbors’ vested property interests and investment-backed expectations based on something that comes out of this ill-conceived project. 

With such high stakes, to hide these things behind a mask of friendly assistance is pure bullshit to me.

What are they to you? 

(via envirolutionary)

UPDATE: Regarding the below repost, I forwarded my comments to IBM’s Smart team. Maybe I’ll hear something. I’ll keep you in the loop. Either way, I’m about to throw them under the bus with an expose.

Meanwhile, check out my piece at GOOD magazine on IBM’s climate adaptation report.

A messy article by the Guardian and even sketchier report by Greenpeace. Glad to say I’m not a MAC guy - I refuse to join the immoral cult of obsolescence and waste. I built my own computer, and upgrade ad-hoc on the cheap. Anyway, I’m very disappointed IBM hit the bottom of this so-called list. Mostly because their SmarterCities and SmarterPlanet initiatives are so effective at making IBM trend green. Are IBM’s Smart projects just clever greenwashing or truly mission cognitive dissonance?

Apple has come bottom of the most comprehensive green league table of technology companies because of its heavy reliance on “dirty data” centres.

The list, which is compiled by Greenpeace and released in San Francisco on Thursday, shows that the company relies heavily on highly polluting coal power at the sites that house its banks of servers.

Greenpeace’s report, How Dirty is Your Data? reveals that the company’s investment in a new North Carolina facility will triple its electricity consumption, equivalent to the electricity demand of 80,000 average US homes. The facility’s power will be supplied by Duke Energy, with a mix of 62% coal and 32% nuclear. On Wednesday, Apple posted a large boost in quarterly earnings, which grew by 95% to $6bn (£3.65bn).

Gary Cook, Greenpeace’s IT policy analyst and lead author of the report, said: “Consumers want to know that when they upload a video or change their Facebook status that they are not contributing to global warming or future Fukushimas.”

Companies in the US are not required by law to disclose their energy use or carbon emissions. But Greenpeace drew on publicly available information on investments made in data centres, to estimate the maximum power these facilities will consume, and matched that information with data from the government or utilities.

The report estimated dependence on coal for Apple’s data centres at 54.5%, followed by Facebook at 53.2%, IBM at 51.6%, HP at 49.4%, and Twitter at 42.5%. Top marks in Greenpeace’s clean energy index went to Yahoo, followed by Google and Amazon. Greenpeace is also campaigning for Facebook to “unfriend coal” and use cleaner energy to power its servers.

(Read more)

(via csmonitor)