‘Greenwashing’ is a modern word to describe companies that pretend their products are ‘green’, when they are not. From cars that claim they are green (you can have a greener car, but not a green one) to companies that claim to be green (but items are not biodegradable and contain toxic chemicals), the big ad budgets go to town on trying to convince you otherwise.
Is It Really Green? is a guide packed with answers to 140 everyday questions: This book sheds light on the consequences of our everyday decisions and helps you feel empowered to do what you can to make a positive impact on the future of our planet. Whether it’s choosing a vegan lifestyle, taking steps towards zero-waste living, or cutting down on travel, every small adjustment to the way we live counts. Author Georgina Wilson-Powell (founder of Pebble) advises:
- Are paper bags better than plastic?
- How much better are electric cars?
- What’s best? using the dishwasher or washing up by hand?
- How to shop sustainably
- What you can do about the climate crisis
- Tips on transport, travel, family and relationships
- Reduce your ecological footprint
Modern Examples of Greenwashing
- A good example of greenwashing by national companies is the supermarket industry. Years ago, a Cornish local supermarket described it very well: Your ‘local strawberries’ are likely grown locally. Then they are picked up and transported hundreds of miles down a motorway by lorry to a central distribution warehouse, where they sit in refrigerated trucks for a couple of weeks, befoer another lorry picking them up and transporting them back down the motorway and past your front door again, before landing in plastic containers in the supermarket, saying ‘local, grown in Kenya!’ Far better to just pick your own, or grow your own berries!
- Companies that have for years tested on animals now have the law changed so are no longer able to sell animal-tested cosmetics. So they now promote themselves as ‘kind to animals’ in TV ads. But many still sell to China and countries that at time of writing, still require animal tests for imports. So your money is going to companies that put profit before animal welfare, and are only ‘not tested on animals’ here, due to a change in the law.
- Buy a green car! For sure, you can buy a greener car. And you be a greener driver by letting a mechanic change antifreeze to avoid spills that harm wildlife, and avoiding toxic air fresheners and using re-refined oil. But you can’t buy a green car, that’s an oxymoron. Joining a car-sharing club is likely greener, but they won’t say that, as they want you to buy a car! Electric cars are greener but still too expensive. If they want people to buy greener cars, they should make them more affordable.
- The ‘red tractor’ just means the meat is British. You’ll find a lot of ads focus on local meat, but that does not mean it’s not from factory farms. Certified organic free-range meat is the only one, the same for anything organic, it has to say ‘certified’ to mean anything (Wholesome Food Association can certify you for £27 a year, if you can’t afford Soil Association status, it’s run on a trust basis with surprise audits). They also had to redo their paper straws when it found they could not be recycled. They are okay now, but the straws are put in cups with plastic, which rather defeats the object? Join the campaign by Compassion in World Farming for clearer labelling.
- McDonald’s makes out that their meat is from ‘happy cows’. This is a real bugbear within the UK for many involved in animal welfare, including Compassion in World Farming. In fact, the American actor who played Ronald McDonald gave up his job (and became vegetarian) as he was starting to feel bad about promoting this lie to children. He now campaigns for animal welfare instead.
- Many oil companies are trying to pretend they are green, which obviously is not true. Oil is made from the skeletons of millions of creatures from eons ago and to retrieve it is a messy and damaging process. They can put solar panels on their roofs, but some have been called out for promoting ‘green credentials’. Exxon Valdez is responsible for the worst oil spill in history, which killed millions of creatures off the coast of Alaska, due to an oil spill caused by overworking staff, who fell asleep. Covering oil over 1300 miles that killed hundreds of thousands of seabirds, otters, seals and whales, the clean-up operation is still ongoing, 30 years later.
- Nestle is one of the world’s most boycotted companies, with constant rows with Baby Milk Action over marketing formula to poorer mothers who then water down or give less milk to babies, due to severe poverty (nearly all mothers can breastfeed, even if not very well nourished). Greenpeace has said their statement for all packaging to be reusable does not give firm timelines, and sets ‘an incredibly low standard as the largest food and beverage company in the world’. It (along with Coca-Cola and PepsiCo) was named world’s top plastic polluters for three yearsrunning.
- Many big banks say they invest in green energy. But unlike banks like Triodos, they still lend money to polluters. So they add on green investment, but are not refusing to invest in companies that don’t.
- Many fast fashion chains (that often make goods in countries with poor human rights and animal welfare laws) often give vouchers to encourage you to recycle items, to buy new. Of course, proper slow fashion means buying wellmade clothes to last, so you don’t have to keep buying new clothes each season.
Greenwashing in the Palm Oil Industry
This is a real icky one; ‘sustainable palm oil’. There is no such thing. The palm oil industry is responsible for tearing down rainforest homes of orangutans (some are killed with their babies) to produce cheap fast plantations to make a cheap oil for junk food and bar soap. Certified organic palm oil is okay, but there is not enough land to go around. So everyone quotes ‘sustainable palm oil’ on goods quoting the Round Table on Sustainable Palm Oil, a self-policed think tank that has no legal status, and investigations have found that some forests raised to the ground have been carrying this logo. Vegans are increasingly concerned of major food companies including it and even some major vegan charities promoting and licensing goods containing it (what’s the point of saving cows, if you are killing orangutans instead?) It’s just used because it’s cheaper than home-grown rapeseed oil (which also has a lower carbon footprint, as it’s not imported). Greenpeace says the RSPBO is as ‘useful as a chocolate teapot’.
The Answer to GreenWash: Local! & Simple
The answer is simply to live a more local life. It’s not always possible. But where possible:
- Choose indie shops over supermarkets
- Choose car-sharing clubs over buying new cars
- Choose ethical long-lasting clothes over fast fashion
- Choose filtered tap water over bottles
- Make your own food with seasonal plant-based ingredients
- Support small local charities over big ones that spend money on animal testing, company cars and free pens.
- Choose reusable goods from local zero waste shops
- Only buy what you need, plus the odd splurge or gift
- Switch to a green energy company, and reduce your bills.
- Spend your leisure time with loved ones, rather than at the mall
Localisation, in short, is probably the best answer there is to globalisation. This means that the people own their community and live and work independently within it. When people are invested in their local area, they have their voices heard and have a personal interest in the state, health and welfare of their area. When the assets are owned by people far away and when decision that affect that area are taken by people not affected by those decisions (just a row on a spreadsheet), then the people of that community have far less chance of creating their future together, and far less reason to work together, to make that happen. Patch of the Planet