THE DARK ART OF GREENWASHING
THE DARK ART OF GREENWASHING
The creativity of storytelling and design, especially when the end results are products, services and systems that enhance people’s health and that of the environment we inhabit are not only inspirational, but also necessary.
Over the years however, people with such talents of storytelling and design have progressively been engaged in the dark art that is now known as greenwashing.
A term coined in the 80’s to describe deceptive communication in the form of images and words. Everyday examples of greenwashing now span all of life and come from government, institutions and business’s alike, in the form of packaging, ads and speeches. Greenwashing has become so prolific that the tactics used have been documented as the Six Sins of Greenwashing
The major areas that are seen by the general public as progressive to society such as environmental sustainability and natural products are where the most prolific greenwashing takes place.
Walking down the aisle of any supermarket or department store today, it would appear that almost all products are natural.
Green leaves, oranges and flowers on shampoo bottles, idealistic names that contain the words green and earth on cleaning products, and statements of pure and natural on garments all portraying a sense of nature.
This sense however quickly disappears once you turn the packaging around and read the ingredients*, search online or enquire with a manufacturer about the processes they use.
If you really want to dig a little deeper, but be warned it can be depressing, you can search online for the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) of an ingredient you just cannot get your tongue to express. You will discover all sorts of unfriendly things.
For example, the LD50 test, which stands for Lethal-Dose-50 and expresses at what stage 50% of animals that the ingredient has been tested on have died. You may also discover such information about the possible skin irritation that may be caused from the use of a laundry ingredient. Not what you want to read on something that you wash your cloths with.
Two of the major phrases used today as greenwashing are “derived from plants” and “plant based”. For a little trip down education lane, please have a look at the infographic below to see how misleading these terms can be.
|Image: The process of a very popular ingredient found in multiple eco-conscious 'plant based brands'
In the case of sustainability, a key component of greenwashing by governments and businesses alike is to announce goals that will be achieved in the future with a plan that will start in the future while supporting the opposite in the present.
For example, the recent Australian government budget for the 2021-22 for the environment that includes measures relating to oceans, environmental law reform, recycling and climate adaptation was announced as $480 million**.
Before you get excited, let’s break this down a little with some comparisons. The $480 million budget is equivalent to the building of 4-5 high-rises on the Gold Coast where I live. The scariest part of the budget is that part of it is being used for “climate adaptation”, which in other words means taking measures now for the inaction of the past. To top it off, the Australian government in the same period of 2021-22 will subsidise fossil fuels to the tune of $10.3 billion***. That’s 21 times greater than the environmental budget and if we view it from an environmental perspective, we will see that the money will result in the removal of mountains and the drilling of the ocean floor. Yes, a little depressing, but a reality check sometimes is.
ALL ROADS LEAD TO HOME
While the old saying is, all roads lead to Rome, the reality is that all roads lead to home. Think about it. Every industry in the world is there for our lifestyle, our comfort or our convenience. Even the military industrial complex is there to protect us (sadly, from each other). That very knowledge if acted upon by enough people can cripple the most polluting organizations and give life to those that are endeavoring to do good. Quite honestly, it’s a really good feeling every time you make a decision to use your money to make a difference, knowing that when sufficient numbers of people do this, it will reach a tipping point where the old will collapse and become compost for the good.
* By law, laundry and other home care products do not need to disclose their ingredients on packaging.
** Environment Parliament of Australia: https://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Parliamentary_Departments/Parliamentary_Library/pubs/rp/BudgetReview202122/Environment
- *** The Australia Institute: https://australiainstitute.org.au/post/australian-fossil-fuel-subsidies-hit-10-3-billion-in-2020-21/ Note: The worldwide subsidies for fossil fuels annually exceed $500 billion.