Responding to growing consumer demand for green construction, companies industrywide are brandishing green credentials. Critics, however, warn of “greenwashing,” the practice of claiming limited or superficial green practices as representative of a true green identity. Greenwashing is a marketing tactic first used by corporations, such as oil companies, to deflect criticism about their performance on environmental issues and win over environmentally conscious consumers.

Now greenwashing is showing up in construction, too. Some contractors, for example, sell themselves as “green” because they offer sustainable materials, a practice experts say misses the point.

“Putting green materials on a badly built building doesn't make it green,” says consultant Carl Seville.

David Johnston, a green-building educator, says manufacturers are guilty too, pushing pro-green programs and policy initiatives that either exonerate controversial products or disregard allegations of toxicity.

The Green Building Initiative, for example, is a manufacturer- and National Association of Home Builders-supported group that promotes green building practices but supports business-friendly (i.e., less stringent) standards, and ignores the controversial products of its manufacturer members.

“There's competition over who gets to define ‘green',” Johnston says. — David Zuckerman is a freelance writer based in New York.