Joel Makower reflects upon the evolving definition of greenwash in a recent post titled, "How Bad is Greenwashing, Really?" He explains how greenwash in the late 80's and early 90's referred to "deliberate and cynical attempts by companies to mislead the public."

Fast forward to 2008, and corporate America has moved beyond abject denial and cover up to a phenomenon Makower calls "Random Acts of Greenness." They recognize that the public is demanding environmental responsibility, and are taking steps to do better (often motivated by the good PR that follows). Now the concern is that 'sustainability' is such a new concept among the general public that we have trouble evaluating the significance of these corporate green claims.

Case in point: KB Home recently announced a company-wide commitment that all communities opening in 2009 will meet "Energy Star" certification.

Is this greenwash?

The cynic in me wants to shake a tsk-tsk finger at them and say, "Great, green suburban single-family home development on green field sites. Big deal. That's like a 'green' 12-mile-per-gallon Hummer with recycled carpet and bamboo trim." It's their urban sprawl development pattern that is unsustainable.

However, this does represent a significant commitment on their part. Energy Star is not the norm. And they're only able to make the commitment because they see a market of consumers asking for green homes. For a business to stay in business, there must be a market for their product. They could commit to only building carbon-neutral, net-zero energy homes on urban infill sites, but they would soon be out of business. The American public isn't asking for that product...yet. Maybe this effort will even drive demand.

I'm inclined to restrain my cynicism and say, "Bravo HB Homes, well done."