I think that by now almost everybody in Australia would have heard about the reasons and obvious benefits of why we should consider living and building more in balance with our environment. Fact is that since it has become super popular to go green, EVERYBODY is in for it. So far so good. But like with many other “trends”, you always have the ones doing things for the right reasons and the ones doing things for money (or other wrong reasons).

Today I’d like to share a pretty common industry “scam” with you, which I have witnessed all around Australia for some time now. The “scam” is so well done, it doesn’t even have its own name yet. Amongst my friends and professional network, we refer to it as “fake sustainability” or “green propaganda” and the people doing it as “fake greenies”.

So, what is it?

In a nutshell, I am talking about the manipulation of the green building industry at its core – the difference between independent vs sponsored sustainable education. Unfortunately, I can’t mention any particular organisations or businesses here, but feel it is very important to explain the wide spread and well covered miseducation in order to make the industry, consumers and people who have an honest interest in sustainable building aware of what happens behind the scenes.

Based on my own experience over the recent years, I could probably write a book about it, but will try to point out the main issues between sponsored and independent education using the example of CPD presentations, industry education events and the like for the architecture and design industry with a focus on sustainability. Given the fact that sustainability is still relatively new to Australia, one would think that it should be accessible to everybody, right? I mean aren’t we all in the same boat and don’t we all need to do better in order to make a difference? I’d say yes, and therefore valuable and especially independent education in that field is a pretty important start.

Well, not very surprising – the reality is different. Most industry events and even face to face workshops charge tremendous fees just to participate and I haven’t even started talking about the quality of content during those events. Looking at the average fees of such events only, it feels like the creation of another industry for elitists, rather than a society and community movement which is needed in order to make the necessary changes. Of course, I am aware that each event organiser has to pay their overheads, administration and so on (not very sustainable business model to start with btw) and they should also be entitled to making a profit, but did you know that most events are already pre-paid by the sponsors behind the scenes before you as a visitor pay for it? Unfortunately, that is the reality in 99% of the cases. Even that would still be fine with me and most people I guess, but the shocking point is that most event organisers in the green building industry take what they can get when it comes to sponsors. I mean, they don’t do their homework and literally any company can become a sponsor, as long as they are willing to fund the event. That way they can spread their “green propaganda” amongst the industry and create some market reputation which is not the full truth to say the least.

Being in 2018, every big and even some of the smaller companies have some form of recycling or sustainable concept in their agenda or use some form of enviro certification. That doesn’t make them or their product automatically sustainable and that is a key problem. It’s trendy, but nobody takes the time to look deeper into it or asks questions to clarify. So the show goes on. Why? Because everybody involved wins from it, either financially, marketing and reputation wise or even both.

All that makes it possible, that you can find big sustainable design shows having a platinum sponsorship by certain paint manufacturers for example, who have actually been charged for false advertising on environmental friendly paint. Another real industry example – you can find yourself in a 2 or 3 day face to face workshop on sustainable building design where nobody will mention any product name (because they are officially not allowed to do so if declared a CPD event), but at the end you will be handed the sales rep’s brochures and business cards with all the contacts or find every product detail on a separate section of the organisers website.

In my experience, most of those workshops are real scams, because not only do they charge you as a participant a fair amount of money, they also get sponsored by each of the presenting companies (where not rarely the organisers themselves have a share in some of them) and sometimes even the government too. They call it good business.  I call that double or triple dipping.

Besides the monetary side, which would be almost okay if they would at least be open and honest about it, the saddest part for me is the overall poor quality and limited education you get out of those events. Depending on your level of pre-knowledge, yes, you will most likely learn something new. The real issue is that instead of providing general and most important INDEPENDENT knowledge on best practice sustainability, you will be listening to some “hidden company agenda knowledge sales show” selling you THE whatever latest in green building design. On top, either you or your boss will be paying big dollars for it and most likely return next year, because you need your CPD points. I say, congrats fake greenies for such a clever marketing “scam”, but guess what?

Me and my friends have looked through it and we will tell everybody about your scam. Not in your usual face to face meetings, no. That would take way to long and is not my style. Since I am German, I like to keep it more efficient (sort of comes with the German passport). I will use something called the internet…heard of it? I don’t think you did, because if you would have, you would realize that this is where the future is and would have most likely changed your business model by now.

To summarize, it is all pretty fucked up and twisted if you can see through it. Nevertheless, I still like to finish on a positive note by saying: Luckily not everybody in sustainability is in for the money only and there are a few passionate and honest players in the market who believe in independent education accessible to everyone. The other good news is that the online world and particularly the online green education is one of the fastest growing business fields in Australia for the obvious reasons. Its more cost effective than any of the current methods out there and the best part of it is that it has the potential to give everybody access to the knowledge they need in order to make the changes. Anytime. Anywhere.

So go online and make sure you go independent or at least consider various sources when doing your research. That is how we do it here at DSGNK…and if you like some independent advice feel free to contact us or the GBI for further information.

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Ronny was born in former East Germany and describes himself as a world citizen and creative superhero. He is the founder of DSGN Kartell as well as a director for the Green Building Institute Australia. Grown up where “sustainability” was a necessity to survive, he developed a broad skill set and a very creative mind. Home & product designer, sustainability advocate, businessman, photographer – Ronny is wearing many hats (literally).

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