Greenwashing: Beyond the Promises

Written by Lara Hauge and Alex Reeves-Bonoldi     23/02/2021

As we become more environmentally conscious, brands are under pressure to market their products according to our goals to live sustainably. Whether it’s a clothing, food or technology company, all businesses are desperate to profit from our ever-growing wish to help the environment. But are all these companies as green as they seem? The short answer, unfortunately, is no.

What’s the problem?

Greenwashing is a major issue in the fight against environmental damage, as it counteracts the power of ordinary citizens to make lifestyle changes which could make a real difference. As consumers become more environmentally conscious, brands wish to capitalise on our desire to help without committing the resources necessary to change their business model. Therefore, they market their product as more environmentally friendly than it is. By compromising the consumer’s ability to choose environmentally better products, greenwashing stops ordinary people from shaping the market for the better. By highlighting the good points and ignoring the trade-offs, greenwashed environmentally detrimental products often outcompete more sustainable, transparent brands with less resources to spare on advertising. Greenwashing can also lead to serious human rights issues being hidden from consumers, including pesticide poisoning and the use of dangerous chemicals in toiletries and makeup products.

How can I spot greenwashing?

Learning to spot greenwashed products allows us to avoid them, giving our custom to brands which are genuinely better for the planet. Over time this will reward and encourage these positive brands. The less people fall for greenwashed products, the less reward companies will gain from this advertising, so the less it will occur.

There are 5 types of greenwashing to be aware of:

- Environmental imagery: Leaves, animals or green packaging are often used to give the idea of a product being ‘green’. More eco-friendly products usually use simpler images and plain packaging.

- Misleading labels: For example, ‘100% organic’ with no supportive information.

- Hidden trade-offs: Companies may use natural or recycled materials whilst their product is developed through exploitative conditions.

- Irrelevant claims: Companies may add positive statements under an environmental headline on their website, which are not related to the environment.

- Lesser of two evils: Just because a product or method is better than an alternative doesn’t mean it’s good.

Do your research:

Researching examples of greenwashing can help you to practice identifying these tell-tale signs. The Guardian reported on the company Chevron’s People Do advertisement campaign which is viewed by many environmentalists as a prime example of greenwashing. It made irrelevant claims as many of the environmental programs it advertised were mandated by law. They were also cheaper than the advertisement campaign which promoted them, another red flag for greenwashing. There were also hidden trade-offs within the campaign, as it ignored their own violation of the clean air act and oil spills into wildlife refuges. Finally, the campaign showed Chevron employees helping a variety of cute animals in a classic example of using environmental imagery to manipulate potential customers into believing a company is environmentally beneficial when in reality, their practices are detrimental to our planet in many ways.

Practice makes perfect:

Looking out for the 5 key greenwashing signs, reading the small print on product descriptions, and researching the manufacturer can lead to the discovery that a product isn’t as environmentally friendly as it first appears. However, it’s important to remember that avoiding greenwashed products takes practice. Some companies spend millions of dollars on greenwashed advertising campaigns, so don’t be discouraged if you find out that something you have bought isn’t as green as it seemed. The important thing is that you keep trying, because every time you avoid a greenwashed product, you make the lie a little less profitable.

Spreading the word:

The more people who are aware of greenwashing, the less profit made by companies utilising this shady technique. This makes it more likely that there will be a movement towards genuinely more sustainable products, so the more you can spread the word, the better. Another great way of combating greenwashing is to email your MP addressing the issue or even start a petition to get words such as ‘green’ and ‘eco’ legally defined so that they can’t be used to fool customers. It can also be useful to contact companies who you feel are greenwashing and explain the issues you have spotted and why they are a problem. Ultimately, knowing that people care encourages companies to change.

The need to incorporate migrants into climate change discussions.

Written by Nina Monju

Just like the financial crisis of 2008 and the refugee crisis of 2015hit Europe and the world at large, so too is the climate change crisis.  The impact of this man-made crisis has extensively affected every human settlement. Climate change is a reality and the scientific basis for climate change has already been well recognized. However, the science behind climate change is so complex, that its effect on people and society at large is hard to predict.

Who is at risk?

One of the groups of people who face the harsh realities of these unpredictable events are “migrants”. Migrants are being faced with the decision of moving out of their countries because of environmental led factors. Climate change factors are often the root causes of both local and global migration autonomously of the nature and harshness of global climate change. In most developing countries, the effects of drought on large land masses has become more severe, rendering those lands nonarable and other times unproductive, forcing and pushing people to move to other places in search for greener pastures. Emigration to them is seen as the only viable solution. According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, 17.2 million people had to leave their homes last year, because of disasters that negatively affected their lives. This is why there is a need for us to incorporate migrants into climate discussions. As Ms. Dina Ionesco, who is the head of the Migration Environment and Climate Change Division at the UN International Organization for Migration (IOM), explains, “there is a strong possibility that more people will migrate in search of better opportunities, as living conditions get worse in their places of origin".

Has anything been done?

Despite the reality of climate change, no international agreement or protection framework exists to plan for or address the expected dramatic increase in migration. Current international refugee, environmental, and human rights law does not account for climate change-induced displacement and migration, creating legal gaps in protection. However Ms. Ionesco states that “the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the main UN authority on climate science, has repeatedly said that the changes brought on by the climate crisis will influence migration patterns. The World Bank has put forward projections for internal climate migration amounting to 143 million people by 2050 in three regions of the world, if no climate action is taken.”

What then, is the solution?

Is incorporating migrants into the climate change discussions the solution? No. But it is starting point. There is no one single solution to combat the challenge of environmental migration, but there are many solutions that tackle different aspects of this complex equation. Nothing meaningful can ever be achieved without the strong involvement of civil society actors and the communities themselves who usually know what is best for them and their ways of life.