Topic: Greenwashing


According to the United Nations, greenwashing is defined as the practice of “misleading the public to believe that a company or other entity is doing more to protect the environment than it is,” and it can therefore delay or hinder real solutions to the climate crisis. The term was first coined in 1986 by the environmentalist Jay Westerveld, who pointed out the irony when a large resort in the South Pacific encouraged its residents to reuse towels in order to reduce ecological damage, even though the resort was expanding at the expense of its surrounding natural environment. The term greenwashing has since been used to describe the actions of companies in many different sectors. Examples from the oil and energy sector include Chevron, which spent more money on advertising promoting them caring about the environment than what they actually spent on these green initiatives themselves. Similarly, Equinor refers to itself as a broad energy company that invests in renewable energy, despite the fact that this only makes up 3 percent of their investments. An example from the fashion industry is H&M, which was accused of misleading customers when they claimed to have a “green” line of clothing, as they produced little actual evidence of the clothes’ sustainability. Other examples include food and drink companies like Nestle and McDonald’s, car producers like Volkswagen, and the furniture retailer IKEA.

In a 2020 systematic review researchers found that there are two main types of greenwashing. Firstly, selective disclosure, which occurs when a company makes grand public statements about largely inconsequential positive environmental impacts while concealing larger practices causing environmental harm. Secondly, decoupling, which means that corporations seek to alleviate public pressure by claiming that they are environmentally friendly, when in reality they are not: they engage in symbolic rather than substantive action in order to satisfy stakeholders.

Another study found that greenwashing is less likely to occur in countries where companies are exposed to scrutiny and global norms, indicating that these are effective tools to combat the hurtful practice of greenwashing. These tools include, but are not limited to, making consumer rights stronger, forcing companies to be transparent, making sure that certificates actually ensure the sustainability of the product or service, and introducing and/or following more closely up on regulatory frameworks.

©2024 ClimateLit (Marit Elise Lyngstad)


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by Chris Renaud

“A town without nature: not one living tree. So what happened to them? Cue the music, let’s see.”

The Lorax

by Dr. Seuss

“I meant no harm. I most truly did not. / But I had to grow bigger. So bigger I got.”