Using traditional life cycle assessments (LCAs) to measure the environmental impact of products and services is not an accurate enough measure and has become outmoded, according to Roland Geyer and Trevor Zink in a recent SSIR article describing a new measurement concept that they are calling ‘net green’.
Many current measurements, such as LCAs, assume that each ‘green’ product will replace a standard product one-for-one and that all other variables remain fixed, therefore reducing environmental impact.
The authors argue that a more efficient or ‘greener’ product may actually increase demand for, or usage of, a product. The net effect would therefore be an increase in consumption. They also point out that ultimately all products will have an impact on the environment. They challenge the very concept of a ‘green’ product or service.
Any corporate environmental communication strategy based on selling green products will always be plagued by the fact that all products have environmental impacts, and the greenest option will always be no product at all.
A more useful measure, according to Geyer and Zink, is to calculate the ‘net green’ impact of a product. This measure takes into account a whole gamut of possible impacts. These might include how consumers behaviour has changed because of the new product, which other products it is out-competing and whether the new product increases total market demand or product use.
This is clearly no mean feat. However, the authors believe that calculating ‘net green’ will be worth the effort for companies truly wishing to take responsibility for their environmental impact.
Embracing net green will make corporate environmental sustainability efforts more complex, but also more meaningful, rewarding, and defensible. It will also help companies enhance the credibility of their environmental communication efforts and avoid the hot water of greenwashing.
For more detail on Geyer and Zink’s net green concept, read the original Stanford Social Innovation Review article here.