There’s plenty of greenwashing going on out there:
Much of this dressing up of normal as ‘green’ is being done by corporations, as pointed out in this Radio series in the run-up to COP26:
GREEN INC: Carbon Omissions
Green Inc Episode 1 of 4
Cop26 is fast approaching. The usually imperturbable IPCC’s latest report can best be translated as ‘Panic!’ and our Facebook feeds and Twitter timelines are littered daily with biblical scenes of infernos and flooding. But at least corporations are taking the crisis seriously… if you believe their advertising that is.
In an anarchic and challenging documentary series, BAFTA winning activist and satirist Heydon Prowse gives us his personal take as he unpacks the multi-billion-dollar PR and advertising industry that’s helping businesses across tech, energy, food and farming appear climate friendly.
With increasing consumer demand for more sustainable stuff, companies are today falling over themselves to meet increased consumer demand for more sustainable products. Are we seeing the world’s largest companies shift in a more sustainable direction or is all this slick advertising just lulling us into a false sense of security?
In this first episode, the oil and gas industry, where influencers dance around cartoon solar panels and company’s twitter feeds read like they’ve pivoted to become environmental campaigners.
There is indeed a long history of corporations ‘going green’ – or, rather, doing green PR on a pretty massive scale.
One of the most successful advertising campaigns back in the 1970s was backed by the US beverage industries who convinced Americans that disposing of bottles/cans was the responsibility of individuals – rather than have states impose a deposit scheme:
The plastics industry today is keen to spread the message that the packaging of fruit and veg in plastic ‘saves the planet’ – although the whole point of plastic around your cucumber is to prolong its shelf-life – which is all part of the supply chain logistics we’ve been learning about:
Perhaps more insidious is when companies actually lie that their products are ‘green’ when they are not – as with the ‘Dieselgate’ scandal:
This ‘greening-up’ seems to have involved pretty much the whole automotive industry – and the sorry saga continues:
But we’re still happy to buy their products:
Finally, as a piece out today shows, subterfuge and obfuscation are followed across the tech industry – and we seem to be quite happy about it. Here’s the last part of that article;
Is Big Tech ‘greenwashing’ its environmental responsibilities ahead of COP26? It wouldn’t be the first time.
Why Greenwashing works so well
So why do companies insist on greenwashing their operations rather than actually reform themselves? Because it is far more profitable to simply adjust public perception than it is to make meaningful reforms. A 2015 Nielsen poll found that 66 percent of respondents would be willing to pay a premium for “environmentally sustainable products” and among those willing to pay more more than 50 percent were influenced by sustainability factors such as “a company being environmentally friendly (58 percent), and company being known for its commitment to social value (56 percent.)”
It’s also because we, collectively, keep falling for it. Consumers’ desires to help address the climate crisis, especially in the face of barely tepid responses from world governments, primes us to view virtually any action on that account as a positive one. “SDGs [Sustainable Development Goals] and ‘net zero’ have kind of created an opportunity for a lot more greenwashing, because it allows you to describe yourself as a green company when you’re doing a thing that’s fundamentally not green,” Dave Powell, co-presenter of the Sustainababble podcast and the former Head of Environment at the New Economics Foundation, told Client Earth. “You effectively buy your way out of trouble, for example, by promising to plant large numbers of trees.”
“As part of their climate strategies, many companies are relying on voluntary carbon offsetting. However, if not done well, offsetting can result in greenwashing,” Dr. Aoife Brophy Haney, Research Lecturer at the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment at the University of Oxford, added. “To mitigate this risk, government and society at large should support the use of best practice guidelines, such as the recently released ‘Oxford Principles for Net Zero Aligned Carbon Offsetting’, to help ensure offsetting is done in a rigorous and credible way that ultimately contributes to net zero goals.”
And, most importantly, companies continue to engage in greenwashing because there is very little downside to doing so, at least from a regulatory perspective. In the US, the FTC guidelines for environmental marketing claims are only voluntary, though the FTC does retain the right to prosecute outright false or misleading advertisements.
However, cracks in the greenwashing facade may be beginning to show, starting in the financial sector, as regulators’ interest in ESG fund (environmental, social and governance) oversight grows. As Financial News London reported Monday, German asset manager DWS has recently been investigated by both US and German regulatory agencies after a former employee accused the company of fudging the environmental credentials in its 2020 annual report.