Chapter 1: Going Green in the Data Center

Cisco Press

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Green + Whitewashing = Greenwashing - Public sentiment is powerful regarding green, not only in supporting green efforts but also in reacting harshly to misleading or inflated claims around green—a practice dubbed greenwashing. Several websites now exist entirely for the purpose of exposing such activities. For good reason, as an ample number of green claims made by product makers or service providers are apparently of questionable merit.

During late 2008 and early 2009, TerraChoice Environmental Marketing reviewed the green claims of thousands of consumer products and determined that the vast majority are vague or misleading in some way. For the study, researchers visited 40 stores in the United States, Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom. They evaluated 4705 consumer products from baby care and household cleaning items to electronic goods and office products and determined that, among 10,419 green claims made about them, all but 30 claims were flawed. (TerraChoice performed a similar study 2 years earlier to similar findings—a review of 1753 claims by 1018 products in six North American stores determined that only one claim was without flaws.)

The firm categorized the deceptions into what it calls “Seven Sins of Greenwashing.” These include

  • Sin of the Hidden Trade-off: Suggesting a product is green based on one characteristic without addressing other environmental issues. For example, promoting paper products for its recycled content while ignoring manufacturing-related concerns such as air and water emissions or global warming.

  • Sin of No Proof: Making an environmental claim without providing evidence. For instance, touting lamps or light bulbs for energy efficiency yet offering no supporting documentation.

  • Sin of Vagueness: Making an environmental claim that is so unspecific it is likely to be misunderstood. Terms such as “green” and “environmentally friendly,” for example, reveal little about a product if not qualified with additional information.

  • Sin of Worshiping False Labels: Using a mock green-certification image to imply that a product has been verified as green by a legitimate agency.

  • Sin of Irrelevance: Touting a green characteristic of a product that, although factually correct, isn’t relevant. The study found frequent claims about items being free of ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons, which were banned in 1987 by international treaty (the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer) and therefore by default not typically present in products.

  • Sin of Lesser of Two Evils: Identifying an item as green or organic when the entire class of product as a whole poses environmental concerns. For example, organic cigarettes, which might indeed be made in a more environmentally friendly way than other cigarettes but still pose health concerns.

  • Sin of Fibbing: Making false environmental claims.

Needless to say, you don’t want to participate in greenwashing or have your business get a reputation for doing so. Although the preceding “sins” are in reference to the packaging and marketing of consumer products, the same potential exists to make imprecise or inaccurate claims around how green a given Data Center is.

Chapter 2 covers industry standards for accurately representing how environmentally friendly your Data Center is.


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