If recycling is a virtue, then PC World is virtuous indeed. Not for its claims for the world's first environmentally friendly PC, claims at best badly formed and at worst actively misleading, but because the company is recycling a strategy that was worn out the day it was named.
Greenwash is the game — a combination of green talking and whitewash actions. First described in the early 1990s, it's a fine example of the old adage that "the louder he talked of his virtue, the faster we counted our spoons". You can find it everywhere, from the sunflower in an oil company's logo to hotels' claims to spare the planet — not their laundry bills — by leaving your towels unwashed.
It's easy to spot greenwash: it comes in a press release and contains few, if any, actual numbers. With PC World's claims for ecological soundness salted with "could be" and "where possible", there are only two solid promises to be checked. One claim is for carbon neutrality — itself a nebulous concept without figures to back it up — and the other is that the computer will be running Vista.
There is no more environmentally unfriendly operating system. By forcing a new round of hardware updates and promoting power-hungry graphics cards, Vista is promoting unnecessary resource consumption. A true green operating system would work well with existing installations, and provide more ways of tuning hardware to minimise power consumption: a really green PC would come with a utility to move an existing operating system across, or come bundled with a much more efficient option, such as Linux. And the most environmentally efficient PC is the one in front of you right now: why cycle because someone else says so?
None of this is much good to PC World — but then, co-opting green ideas for marketing purposes shouldn't help them either. Exactly the same tricks are afoot in corporate IT, where the environmental impact of new ideas is either played down or misconstrued. It's our job — and yours — to see through the deception.
When suppliers make claims for environmental benefits, ask for facts and figures. Not that you should have to: the good guys will have them up front, and be proud of them. If you're still not sure, ask an independent environmental expert for their take on the proposal. There will always be factors that greenwashers don't discuss — and hope you never discover. There are corners they want kept dark.
That's what really gives the game away. Unlike real greenery, greenwash hates sunlight.