When it comes to trends, there will always be people joining for the sake of joining, and others that take the topic more seriously and have more invested in it. Regarding climate change, this is most definitely true. Caring about the planet has become rather prominent within the past few years, leading to individuals looking to attach themselves to this movement with the desire to be in vogue.
This increase in awareness and action isn’t a bad thing. However, consumers vote with their dollar and false advertising can lead to false positive impact. When certain individuals or businesses decide to jump on the trend for the sake of cornering that market, a problem begins to arise.
Greenwashing is the act of making a certain product, company, or even individual appear to be more eco-friendly than reality. Many negative outcomes can arise from greenwashing, as it can decrease climate change remediation and, in many cases, even increase emissions.
A Hidden Problem
For many companies, it is rather easy to claim to be environmentally conscious without actually making an effort, and doing so usually gives them social points and can even increase their profits. This is because, in the US, certain design styles, labels, and titles aren’t heavily regulated, meaning it is easy for a company to insert a greenwashing label on a product or social media account without receiving repercussions. An example of this would be a company packaging their product in a green colored box with the title “eco-friendly” on the label without having any sustainable initiatives in place to back that claim up. Thoroughly researching a brand before purchasing is always recommended.
Some labels are even attached to associations that regulate who can and cannot use their namesake. They typically have a set of criteria that a company needs to meet and usually a heavy fee before being given legal access to use the label. But is this any better? Not necessarily. Just because it is an association doesn’t mean that what it is promoting is accurate and scientifically backed. This is due to the immense nuance that lies within the scientific world and particularly environmentalism. Labeling something as good or bad for the environment typically isn’t accurate due to varying factors and conditions that must be acknowledged first.
Greenwashing can have a negative outcome on the planet due to the perceived notion of activism removing any actual measures that are needed. Carbon offsets, for example, are a rather nuanced subject, as some are legitimate while others, not so much. When it comes to this topic, it is important to do research and make sure that the company you are buying offsets from is following through with its promise.
If a company were to announce they are planting a certain number of trees for every product purchased, but don’t do so, then that carbon is not being sequestered as promised. Furthermore, offsets can be incredibly misleading because companies can use them without actually taking real, sustainable initiatives, allowing them to get away with a high environmental footprint due to the perceived environmentalism.
Perhaps one of the most greenwashing marketing tactics lies within trees, and how the majority of individuals are led to believe that trees provide the bulk of the earth’s oxygen. This is scientifically inaccurate, as it is phytoplankton that provides the earth with roughly 70% of all oxygen, while trees are only accountable for a mere sliver of oxygen supply. This is a long-standing greenwashing technique perpetuated 一 whether intentionally or not 一 by many individuals, businesses, and even governments.
The reason that trees are marketed as such is for the simple reason that individuals are more likely to have an attachment to trees than to phytoplankton. While it is important to advocate against deforestation, it is also important to advocate for the health of phytoplankton and our oceans when it comes to oxygen.
Many companies will utilize greenwashing as a marketing tactic until real changes happen. Industry leaders have suggested creating stricter marketing regulations that must be followed to hold companies accountable. Others believe simply having environmental regulations for any business will be enough to do the trick. Unfortunately, at the moment it falls on the consumer to educate themselves on a company to determine if they are following through with their promises.
All considered, no one is perfect, and it is unfair to hold anyone to perfect standards. It is nearly impossible for one individual to be 100% sustainable in today’s world unless they are very strict with everything they do, don’t own any electronics, and are aware of all the potential indirect environmental impact that can arise from doing everyday tasks.
Holding people accountable for greenwashing is one thing, creating false and unrealistic standards is another. While consumers must do their research, having people engaging in environmentalism is far more impactful than having just a few people practicing nearly perfect environmentalism.