Greenwashing (and Chameleons)

Illustration by Konani Chinn

Greenwashing is when companies try to disguise how bad their products and practices are for the planet.

It’s Not Easy Being Green.

Many companies today are like chameleons: they can ‘change colors’ quickly to try to convince people that they fit in, and avoid unwanted scrutiny.

An example is greenwashing, which can be as simple as falsely claiming that your products are ‘green,’ ‘sustainable,’ ‘eco-friendly,’ ‘recyclable,’ ‘compostable,’ or ‘biodegradable,’ with no proof. Because advertising claims are only lightly regulated, companies get away with this constantly.

Greenwashing can also be part of a longer term strategy to ‘reposition’ your company in the eyes of consumers. Like saying you’re an energy company not an oil company, changing your name to an acronym so it no longer contains the words ‘oil’ or ‘gas,’ or pretending you’re investing in a clean version of something really dirty… e.g. ‘clean coal’ or ‘clean diesel.’

Many companies continue to spend 95% of their R&D budget on fossil fuels, while doing PR and ads all about the 5% they’re investing in zero-carbon energy technologies.

The truth is that most companies do some greenwashing. Almost every business on earth is heavily reliant on the carbon economy – whether producing fossil fuels or products that consume fossil fuels (like cars and trucks), using fossil-fuel powered transportation, running factories and offices on fossil fuels, or loaning money to companies that do all of the above.

Every company is trying to get on the green bandwagon, but for most, their efforts are far outweighed by the environmental damage and carbon emissions they continue to create.

The point is, when you hear about how great some company is for the planet, be skeptical and suspicious… look for the chameleon.