Why bother doing something when you can just say you did it? That seems to be the cynical sentiment driving a lucrative growth industry: corporate green washing.
Consumers are increasingly demanding that companies demonstrate their commitment to the environment through responsible practices. Many of these companies are instead providing PR spin and phony labeling in an effort to keep doing what they have been doing while improving their corporate image.
While this might buy them some time in the short term, the public is peeling back the green veil on eco-bunk. Have a look at this insightful article by Fred Pearce in the Guardian on the Great Green Swindle.
Pearce details how many companies are investing in image instead of action, and being exposed as a result.
In August, an ad industry's watchdog, the Advertising Standards Authority, rapped oil company Shell's knuckles for trying to claim, in an advertisement in the Financial Times, that its $10bn investment in sucking tar sands out of the Canadian midwest was a contribution to a sustainable energy future… Overall, the emissions from mining, refining and burning tar sands are between three and 10 times greater than for conventional oil. Shell's sleight of hand was to use the much-abused word “sustainability” to imply a green agenda when what it was really on about was keeping a sustainable flow of fuel out of its forecourt pumps. The ASA cried foul.
It seems the audacity of some companies knows no bounds. The oil sands are so obscenely unsustainable that they consume enough relatively clean natural gas every day to heat over three million Canadian homes. Environmental Defence published a 131 page report on the tar sands cheerfully called “The Most Destructive Project on Earth”.
If the tar sands are “sustainable”, then the word clearly has lost all meaning in the English language and should be expunged from dictionaries the world over.
How about this corporate nose-stretcher: Manchester airport apparently pledged to make the facility carbon-neutral, with one small caveat: the target does not include the 200,000-plus flights into and out of the airport each year.
The sustainable development organization, Forum for the Future conducted an audit on the airport and observed that this claim “jars somewhat”. The British have always had a gift for understatement.
Here’s another knee-slapper exposed by Pearce. The City of London Corporation launched a City Climate Pledge, under which local banks would pledge to “measure and monitor” their carbon footprint. But companies simply have to fill out a form detailing their CO2 plans and they can use the pledge logo. “Companies using the logo will be recognized as exemplar sustainable businesses [able to] attract consumers who are becoming more discerning about the credentials of businesses they deal with,” says the flyer.
Not bad for just filling out a form. Especially as there doesn't seem to be any follow-up or auditing process involved.
Thankfully this effort by the Guardian to expose green washing is not merely a one-off. They are launching a regular column where their readers can help with the daunting task of tracking the torrent of eco-bunk the public is exposed to.
According to Pearce, “How many more green scams, cons and generous slices of wishful thinking are out there? We want to name and shame them before the whole green movement gets a bad reputation.” Well said, Mr. Pearce.
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