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eco-bling also ecobling

noun [uncountable]

ecological gadgets and technology which do not save or produce very much energy relative to their cost

'British homes and offices are being plastered with useless eco-bling which makes little difference to the environment, a leading engineer has claimed.'

Daily Mail 20th January 2010

Before you wax lyrical about how your recently installed solar panels have made a huge impact on your energy bill and how you'll sleep more sweetly comforted by the knowledge that your home is flying an environmentally-friendly flag – consider that you may be one of many who have succumbed to the lure of eco-bling.

classic examples of eco-bling are wind turbines and solar panels installed on residential homes which … only produce a trickle of energy

The newly coined term eco-bling refers to ecological devices and technologies which cost more than they actually save in terms of energy produced, and are of more limited environmental benefit than the purchaser would like to believe. Classic examples of eco-bling are wind turbines and solar panels installed on residential homes which, according to claims made by the UK's Royal Academy of Engineering, only produce a trickle of energy. Studies have shown for instance that rooftop turbines only generate enough electricity to power four or five low-energy light bulbs.

In a report published in January 2010, engineers called for a re-consideration of approaches to what is known as retrofitting, installing new devices and technologies in old buildings to make them waste less energy. The report argued that in reality, it often costs as much to install renewable energy on an existing building as it does to design a sustainable building from scratch, but the energy-saving benefits of a newly designed building are much greater.

Eco-bling, it's been argued, is more about environmental one-upmanship – the idea of showing off your eco-credentials to the neighbours rather than genuinely shrinking your carbon footprint. More effective measures in existing homes and offices are low-cost solutions, such as loft insulation, fitting thermostatic controls to heating systems, and using low-energy light bulbs.

Background – eco-bling

The term eco-bling was brought into the spotlight in early 2010 by Doug King, Visiting Professor of Building Engineering at the University of Bath. Observing that it had become fashionable for people to install renewable energy at home, King described rooftop devices as eco-bling, stating that:

'Eco-bling is a term I coined to describe unnecessary renewable energy visibly attached to the outside of poorly designed buildings.'

However King's usage does not in fact represent the first appearance of the term eco-bling. There is some evidence to suggest its use four or five years earlier to describe decorations and accessories (shiny baubles, stickers, bottle openers etc.) that have an ecological theme.

The form eco- first appeared in the late nineteenth century, initially confined to the word ecology and its derivatives but finally breaking free in the mid-twentieth century to become a highly productive prefix with the general meaning 'environmentally-friendly'. Among the more recent examples of its use are ecotourism (environmentally-friendly tourism), ecovore (someone who eats in an enviromentally-conscious way) and ecosexual (a person with a strong interest in environmental issues which affects their lifestyle, choice of partner, etc.).

The bling element of the word has its origins in bling bling, an expression referring to large pieces of expensive, eye-catching jewellery, thought to have originated from the Jamaican slang for the imaginary "sound" produced in animated cartoons when light reflects off a diamond. The shortened form bling came into widespread use in the early noughties. Current usage relates not only to jewellery but anything which smacks of excess or being 'showy'.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

Last week …

Read last week's BuzzWord. Hurt locker.

This article was first published on 6th April 2010.

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