We need to talk about greenwash

Rob Fiehn

Designing an airport that looks like a tree does not make it green. The profession needs to watch its language, says Rob Fiehn in a piece to mark Earth Day

In a recent Negroni Talk, the researcher Sabrina Syed described greenwashing as “a performance” and that the people involved were peddling “a sugary eco fantasy”. Some of our best architects seem to be guilty of green spin and the whole industry should be extremely cautious of joining this merry dance. We’re seeing instances where practices are either complicit in or responsible for misleading language.

I’m not an architect and can’t pretend to understand all the issues surrounding material selection, policy changes and client demands. I am however in the communication business and I worry that a “fake it to make it” culture is building up around sustainable terminology.

We’re all getting used to spotting the obvious greenwashing, with green walls or photovoltaics slapped on to the sides of buildings, but there is a more “green-adjacent” approach that is permeating the marketing materials of buildings and the processes that go into making them.

In my mind, a recent egregious example came from the unveiling of the new Grimshaw terminal in Shenzhen. Sure, the building looks well-designed and I applaud its strategy to target Leed Platinum environmental credentials but what’s with all the tree metaphors?

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