BEING environmentally friendly has seeped into every pore of society; and with Scotland's first eco-town in the pipeline, the "greenwash" backlash is beginning to bite.

It used to be seen as a lifestyle choice of a minority, but green issues have never been higher on the political and public agenda. Critics say it's now become little more than a brand used to bolster a trend favoured by the masses.

This week Scottish MSPs will hear plans from Hamilton-based property developer Banks Developments, who want to undertake a major regeneration project where 5000 new eco-homes will be built. The proposed carbon neutral community will include 1250 designated affordable homes, new schools, transport links, public parks and a cemetery.

A planning application for the 1200-acre site at Cardenden in Fife is expected to be submitted this autumn.

Colin Anderson, managing director of the developer, said: "The principles of sustainability are increasingly at the centre of both building design and our everyday lives, and the proposals we are putting forward for Cardenden will set new standards in the delivery of zero-carbon developments in Scotland.

"Sustainable, high-quality communities such as this will make a significant contribution to creating the prosperous and low-carbon Scottish economy that is the country's stated future ambition."

Anderson said the Cardenden scheme would bring "new sustainable investment and employment" to the area. The development will take place over a 20-year period with the first phase starting in 2009/10.

Banks Developments will formally publish its Vision and Delivery Statement for Cardenden Eco-town at a launch event in Edinburgh on Thursday which will be attended by MSPs, Fife councillors and members of the Cardenden Community Council.

The Living Village Trust, set up in 1993, is one of the pioneers of eco-living. Its development at The Wintles in Bishop's Castle, Shropshire, is increasingly hailed as a model for the revolutionary lifestyle. Founder Bob Tomlinson ensures the buildings are wooden-framed and have good levels of high-performance insulation made from recycled paper (called Warmcel). By positioning bigger windows on the south side of the houses, they make the most of the sun to heat and light them. Hot water comes from solar power. And concrete use is kept to a minimum in the foundations.

Tomlinson is determined to take the successful Bishop's Castle model into Britain's major towns and cities. Living Villages is already at various stages of negotiations for building another 2000 eco-homes across Britain. He says the Scottish authorities are far ahead of England when it comes to understanding the issues around community eco-sustainability.

Dr Stirling Howieson, director of the Centre for Environmental Design and Research (Cedar) at Strathclyde University, said some eco-homes were "tight polythene boxes for people to live in that save energy but make people deeply unhealthy". He said developers must prioritise people's health when building eco-homes.

Howieson, along with a major UK building firm, is just months away from unveiling a new prototype for an eco-home, which would both save energy and cut toxins and dust mites which lead to asthma and other allergies.

"In the seventies and eighties we had cold damp housing, and now we have warm damp housing. They are riddled with dust mites which we didn't used to have and that is what's driving the asthma pandemic. There is a way to optimise the conflicting demands between energy efficiency and air quality and that's what we have been working on for 15 years. It's a very specific prototype and one of the first eco-homes that actually balances energy efficiency with health."

Howieson believes this kind of housing should be offered to the public.

"People want hydrogen cars but they can't have them because no-one's manufactured them yet, but when they do people will buy it. We want to live a healthier way in the same way we don't want to eat toxic food with chemicals in them, we don't want to live in a toxic house that makes us ill."

Award-winning architect, Malcolm Fraser, who runs his own firm in Edinburgh, said the public should be more aware of "greenwash" as consumers can be misled by green branding.

"eco-housing in some situations amounts to little more than a standard box with a windmill nailed on to it. I'm obviously being flippant but in some respects it's worse than that.

"You hear people suggesting that old buildings should be knocked down and a new one built along with an eco-feature. eco-is becoming a brand and we have to look at the whole life cost of things."

He added: "My green friends moved to the countryside and ended up driving to get a pint of milk and digging water mains across 15 fields to get a supply to their house.

"The existing built environment is a great way of starting to look at sustainability and look at how we can create deeper sustainability through better transport links.

"We should also be aware of greenwash and eco-branding, which isn't to say that's what these latest developments are, but it is my general opinion."

A Scottish government spokeswoman said: "Our housing discussion paper, Firm Foundations, called for views on the introduction of a Scottish Sustainable Communities Initiative (SSCI) to bring forward proposals for sustainable new settlements.

"The Scottish government is currently considering the responses received in relation to SSCI and will be taking the initiative forward in the coming weeks."