The term greenwashing is often used to describe companies that make ambiguous or flat-out erroneous claims to being eco-friendly – think of British Aerospace, who in 2006 attempted to green their ammunitions with reduced-lead bullets and recyclable explosives, or such paradoxical food products as organic TV dinners.
But on the flip-side of this are the companies who are so concertedly, over-the-top green, it seems almost farcical.
Take Ben & Jerry’s, the ice cream makers from Vermont who recently launched a Fair-Trade vanilla flavour.
The launch, however, didn’t just consist of churning out the new ice cream and taking out some ads in local media – it included a comprehensive website outlining all the official Fair Trade regulations as well as an online photo album showcasing the company’s vanilla-bean growing operations in India, Paraguay and Ecuador.
On top of this, the website explains, Ben & Jerry’s are also working on a prototype for thermoacoustic fridges, which are powered by sound waves, as well as asking all their employees to offset their air travel and ensure their climate “hoofprint” is carbon neutral. They also use free-range eggs, strictly monitor their dairy farms, order all their brownie bits from a kitchen that teaches cooking to the homeless and they’re currently looking at converting their ice cream waste into energy with something called a bio-gas digester.
It gets to the point where consumers could argue that eating a tub of Half-Baked every weekend effectively offsets the drive to the cottage.
Here in Canada, too, there are businesses and organizations that are going ridiculously above and beyond when it comes to the green movement.
Evergreen, for example, the non-profit that’s headed by Geoff Cape and has been around since 1991, has been handed the reins to the development of Toronto’s Don Valley Brick Works.
In a couple years’ time, say the organizers, the heritage site will officially reopen to the public as “the greenest building in North America.” There will be pesticide-free educational gardens, a native plant nursery, a producers-only farmers market, community programming workshops and youth training services, urban wilderness camps, office space for socially responsible businesses and a slow-food restaurant with a seasonal, local menu, focused on public education and chef training.
Needless to say, all the buildings will also be LEED-certified with rainwater-capturing systems, solar panels, living walls, geothermal heating and green roofs.
But of course, in the world of eco-extremes, green roofs are nothing. These days, to impress most eco-buffs, you have to have a fully functioning rooftop garden, complete with seasonal herbs, fruit and vegetables, maybe even some hops, a few grape vines and a bee hive or two in order to produce as-local-as-possible booze and honey.
This may sound like it’s feasible only for those who live in the country and make gardening a full-time hobby, but in fact, the Fairmont Royal York hotel in downtown Toronto is doing all of this, with enough time leftover to offer guests daily rooftop tours with their afternoon tea.
And don’t even think about joking, “What’s next, livestock?” to executive chef David Garcelon – he’s already considered that possibility.
“I had someone suggest last week that we put chickens up here,” he said one recent Saturday morning, while up on the hotel roof inspecting his hives and zucchini plants, “but it’s illegal – plus we wouldn’t want any roosters waking up our guests. I think we’re going to stay away from the crazy ideas for at least another six months.”
The honeybees – who live in three designer hives called The Royal Sweet, the Honey Moon Suite and the V.I.Bee Suite, complete with the official hotel logo – are a new addition to the rooftop garden, managed by Garcelon, his apprentices and members of the Toronto Beekeepers Cooperative.
“The interesting thing about bees and the Royal York set-up in particular is that the honey will be specific to this location,” said Mylee Nordin, one of the TBC members. “They feed off the closest food source so they’re going to be feeding off the garden a lot and it’ll be kind of a taste-picture of the hotel itself.”
By keeping hives on the roof, chef Garcelon and the rest of the Royal York staff are not only ensuring that one of their restaurant’s most versatile ingredients is extra-local – the honey will be used in everything from salad dressings to soup, as well as cocktails and ice cream – but that surrounding green spaces like the ravine and the island are kept pollinated so the biodiversity of the city, as a whole, is further enriched.
Urban beekeeping is obviously a significant eco-friendly initiative, but it’s one that the average Canadian can’t exactly start up on a whim. There are various laws against operating hives within certain distances of people’s homes, rules and procedures that must be followed in terms of set-up and maintenance, a provincial apiarist to consult and inspections to undergo.
That said, in the race amongst sustainably minded corporations to be the greenest biz on the block, it appears no idea is too outlandish or impractical.
Perhaps over the next few years, the Royal York will get around to installing wind-powered hair dryers and composting toilets, maybe even a solar oven.
The more green initiatives a company takes on, the better – that goes without saying. It really is impossible to be too environmentally conscious these days. However, the more we’re deluged with list upon list, adjective upon adjective, detailing every single way an organization is green, the faster we may get sick of hearing about it.
As well, just because one business has gone to the extreme on the environmental front, doesn’t mean its competition should be shunned. Ben & Jerry’s may take the green prize, but buying a tub of Kawartha Dairy’s pralines and cream at the supermarket instead won’t exactly destroy the planet.
So let’s try to applaud all those who are leading the way and making enormous changes for the benefit of the earth, without brushing off the others who prefer to take baby steps.
Source: National Post