Greenwashing: Beware!


They come in many forms. Slogans, packaging and policies. Playing off your weakness and your fear for the environment, Greenwashers are using you. This sly form of advertisement ensures that you commit your attention, emotion, and money to an organisation that cares less about the environment than anyone.

What exactly are we talking about? ‘Green-washing‘, a term coined by a New York writer in 1986, describes the manipulative persuasion by an organisation that claims their motives, policies, and actions are environmentally friendly. In fact, they are probably trying to hide the fact they harm the environment.

By Teda13 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Teda13 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Need some examples? In 2008, energy giants E.ON requested the build of a new coal-fired power station in Kent. The first for 30 years, it would fire out 24 countries worth of emissions in 50 years. And to cover it all up, E.ON were in fact sponsoring the Guardian Climate Change Summit, held at in London that summer. Luckily, activists were on hand to make a scene of the whole ordeal.

But Greenpeace won’t always be there keeping tabs. Organisations are dedicated to ‘managing Green-wash’, so to speak, with some countries requiring data before any green terminology can be used, and issuing fines if products are claimed to be environmentally friendly without evidence.

By G patkar [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By G patkar [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

But recently, I noticed that Emirates were calling for projects concerning conservation and environment, which they could sponsor. They even have a whole page on their website listing all the projects they fund. The airline company state that their “unique eco-tourism projects exemplify our commitment to sustainability”. Hmm…

You might argue that yes, organisations that do have major contributions to the environment, such as the carbon emissions from international airlines, should be the ones that make the biggest effort to conserve. But by sponsoring conservation projects, whilst making no obvious effort to reduce the actual emissions themselves, is of no significant help. It is not plausible; it is greenwashing.

You might have read that I am part of a team of biologists undertaking a conservation research Expedition to Madagascar. Partly funded by the Royal Geographical Society with IBG, we came to learn that the donation was in fact made by Rio Tinto, through the former organisation. Rio Tinto… “world leader in finding, mining and processing the earth’s mineral resources”. Right?

Next time you see packaging, slogans, and statements that make a claim for the environment, think carefully. If you notice something particularly fishy, you can expose them via the Guardian’s blog dedicated to Greenwashing and environmental propaganda. 

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