By Nefeli Kanellou,
“Oh no, don’t believe that! It’s just another attempt of greenwashing.”
Does that phrase sound familiar? I bet it does.
During the last years the term “greenwashing” has been used for almost everything. But what is greenwashing, where do we encounter it and, most importantly, how can we spot the difference between that and honest effort towards a greener future?
When we talk about greenwashing our mind goes directly to companies and big corporations; and rightly so. Many industries have tried to make their products or their entire chain of production more sustainable by harvesting raw materials in a more sustainable way, by using less energy in the stages of production and transportation, by generating their power through renewables, by recycling their products, by changing their packaging and many more. And we are to salute these efforts.
The problem is found when “green initiatives” are used as a form of marketing. Many big corporations label their products as “organic” or “conscious”, claiming that they were produced in a more sustainable way. Sadly, more often than not these claims are not substantiated. The companies give few to zero explanations and details as to how they made their products more sustainable or about the origin of their raw materials, leading us to believe that it was only a marketing trick.
Another form of greenwashing is when companies implement sustainability policies that focus on just one small aspect of their production. While they claim that their company is “eco-friendly” or “sustainable”, they only use sustainable tactics on an aspect that the producers can easily spot, leaving the rest of company to function as before, in less sustainable ways. Sustainability is thus becoming not an honest goal, but a marketing tool.
Companies are known for using marketing tricks in order to attract consumers. But what happens when government does it?
One would think that for governments greenwashing is a bit more difficult. It’s not. Many countries, mostly developed ones, have made pledges and commitments concerning the decarbonization of their economies and their focus on cleaner, greener fuels. Even if the Paris Agreement in 2015 proposed some clear and strict goals and many countries agreed to meet them, only the minority of the parties has actually taken action.
Yes of course we have commitments for reducing emissions significantly until 2030 and even achieving carbon neutrality by 2050, but where is the action? Many countries treat climate change as something non trivial, that can wait a few more decades. This isn’t the case.
Even if all countries worldwide achieved carbon neutrality the next day, global warming would still be an issue for at least one decade since emissions are trapped in the atmosphere and remain there sometimes for 20 or 30 years. Yet most of the countries continue to ignore the emergency of climate change and choose to postpone measures.
Furthermore, they have found ways to bypass certain measures or find loopholes. Many governments choose to subsidize coal-fired plants or fossil fuels extraction in third countries or let companies keep having high emissions while investing in renewables which sort of “balances” things.
The thing is that half-measures are not going to cut it. Any “green claims” should be substantiated and companies and state alike should conduct assessments on how their actions affect the environment. Governments should stop using “greenwashing” techniques in order to promote their sustainable policies while at the same time they have found other ways to keep making profits from fossil fuels, usually in a more secretive manner. Replacing all vehicles with electric ones won’t make a huge difference if a country keeps financing and using fossil fuels. Sustainability is not going to be achieved by balancing polluting and green initiatives. Climate change is an emergency. Immediate and holistic measures are the only way to save our planet.
- Carrington, D., How to spot the difference between a real climate policy and greenwashing guff, The Guardian Available here
- De Ferrer, M., What is greenwashing and why is it a problem?, Euronews, Available here
- European Commission, Initiative on substantiating green claims, Available here