Greenwash — verb: to render a product more appealing by cloaking it environmentalist rhetoric.
To date, coverage of the U.S. Outdoor Act (H.R. 3168 | S. 1439) has been unanimously positive. This is in no small part because coverage of the U.S. Outdoor Act has been to date driven by press release.
House sponsor Earl Blumenauer:
“This bill removes unnecessary tariffs on apparel not currently made in the U.S. In addition, the companies that benefit from these reduced tariffs will be required to contribute a portion of their savings toward research programs that are developing ways to keep America’s apparel industry globally competitive and more environmentally sustainable. This is a win for consumers and a win for strong American companies like Columbia, REI, North Face and others looking to reduce costs, improve the quality of their goods and implement sustainable processes….
The STAR Fund grants, made available through a competitive process administered by the Department of Commerce, will help the global textile and apparel industry minimize energy and water use, reduce waste and global warming emissions, and incorporate sustainable practices into a product’s entire life cycle.”
Also in Blumenauer’s press release, Outdoor Industry Association president Frank Hugelmeyer:
“The bill is also an investment in the United States as a global leader in the sustainable, eco-friendly business practices that are core values of the outdoor industry.”
And further, Columbia Sportswear president Tim Boyle:
“This well-designed piece of legislation goes even further by creating a market-based mechanism to generate funds that will help support critical research to keep America in the forefront of sustainable apparel manufacturing practices.”
Sustainable. Eco-friendly. Environmental. Energy and water use. Reduce waste. Cut global warming emissions. These are rhetorical touchstones, but the real test of a bill’s environmentalist quality is the text of the bill itself.
The large majority of the text of the U.S. Outdoor Act is dedicated to eliminating tariffs on “recreational performance outerwear” imported from overseas factories. If the Act is passed, a small portion of the value of the eliminated tariffs would go to an entity called the “STAR fund” administered by five textile and apparel industry representatives. The only reference to environmental practices in the U.S. Outdoor Act is made here, in section five of the bill:
(f) Use of Funds- Funds distributed under subsection (e) may be used only to conduct applied research, development, and education activities to enhance the competitiveness of businesses in the United States in clean, eco-friendly apparel, other textile and apparel articles, and sewn-product design and manufacturing.
That’s it, the only reference to anything environmental in the bill. And pay attention to those conjunctions. The STAR funds are to be used to conduct research, development and education activities… in “eco-friendly apparel” AND “other textile and apparel articles” AND “sewn-product design and manufacturing.” Taken together, those three are a pretty exhaustive description of textile and apparel manufacturing altogether.
Would a new fund for the grocery industry used to conduct research, development and “education” (read: advertisement) activities in “clean, eco-friendly food, other food, and agriculture” count as environmentalist?
Would a new fund for the construction industry used to conduct research, development and “education” activities in “clean, eco-friendly construction materials, other construction materials, and logging” count as environmentalist?
Would a new fund for the oil industry used to conduct research, development and “education” activities in “clean, eco-friendly fuels, other fuels, and drilling” count as environmentalist?
Would a new fund for sheepherders hiring people to “pet the nice sheep and the other sheep” count as an effort to reward nice sheep?
It seems to me that they would not qualify, because the funds exhaustively promote efforts across each industry’s spectrum, just adding a clause to name one part of the industry that sounds attractive. There’s no provision in the U.S. Outdoor Act mandating how much funding, in either relative or absolute amounts, would go to “eco-friendly apparel” as opposed to “other textile and apparel articles.” There’s no guarantee that funding would be dedicated disproportionately to research, production or promotion of “clean, eco-friendly apparel.” The bill makes no guarantee of “sustainable” practices. It doesn’t even mention reduced energy and water use, or reduced waste, or reduced carbon emissions. And yet promises of these benefits, outside the bill in press releases that don’t have the force of law, are being used to promote the bill. The U.S. Outdoor Act, and efforts to promote it, fit the definition of greenwashing to a T.