A comprehensive guide to the ways companies will cosplay as sustainable.
By: Kate Augustine
Why go green when you can just pretend you have? This is the question major companies around the globe are asking themselves.
The trend of businesses advertising as eco-friendly when they are anything but has become a phenomenon called greenwashing. Greenwashing is an unethical, pervasive and frustrating trend for eco-conscious consumers.
Toyota: Toying with the Truth
Take Toyota for example. A few months ago, the company was accused of greenwashing because the rate at which the company was producing cars, especially gas-fueled ones, contradicted Toyota’s plans to be net zero by 2050. The company has also been accused of lobbying governments around the world to halt, weaken and delay legislation for stronger vehicle emissions standards while simultaneously promoting its net zero by 2050 plans. However, Toyota is one of many car companies that greenwashes, and is an issue that is prevalent throughout the industry. Companies from Volkswagen to Jeep from General Motors , and even to Tesla, have been accused of marketing in a way that makes the cars seem more eco-friendly than they are. Companies from almost every industry have been accused of greenwashing, including the fashion, food and aviation industries. This shows the concerning trend of businesses making environmental promises that they don't intend to keep and is becoming a problem that is in every corner of the market.
H&M: Fashion Falsehoods
Major fashion company H&M is another culprit of greenwashing. The company came out with an environmental impact scorecard for the garments they create that actually had a larger environmental impact then what was shown on the card. With that being said, the fast fashion industry as a whole is one of the largest polluters in the world. According to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the industry is responsible for up to 8% of global carbon emissions and it’s the second-largest consumer of water. Fast fashion continues to pollute throughout its lifetime through textile waste and microplastics. These items are made cheaply and quickly, with their only purpose to be used and discarded. This leaves millions of clothing items to end up in landfills or to leech microplastics into the ground and ocean. Even if you opt to buy more expensive items from stores like Reformation or luxury goods, most of these fast fashion practices are seen throughout the industry. In the end, you're most likely buying items with a similar environmental impact, just at a higher price point.
Air France: Flying Blind
In the aviation industry, airlines such as Air France are facing backlash for their use of carbon offsets and misleading carbon neutrality claims. A carbon offset is a credit that one can buy to decrease their carbon footprint by removing carbon from the atmosphere. Typically, this is through acts such as conserving the rainforest, wetlands or grasslands. While this may seem great in theory, many carbon offset programs fail to achieve their most fundamental requirement: making a real difference to carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. For example, some of these carbon offset programs pledge to protect already protected lands, or places not at risk of deforestation. This creates no change for carbon admissions but lets companies and individuals look like they are polluting less than they are.
(Credit: National Geographic)
While a lot of these practices are legal, many countries have started cracking down on greenwashing and the misleading claims companies make. Norway banned
an advertisement from Toyota that the nation deemed deceptive, and the EU has sued many airline companies that use carbon offsets. However, this is just a drop in the bucket in the change that needs to happen around sustainability. Companies, nations and individuals will continue to pollute at an unsustainable rate unless actual change and legislation is put in place to stop them. But while we fight for that change, we can stop letting companies get away with greenwashing.
Greenwashing allows companies to profit off of growing movements of sustainability and environmentalism without making the changes needed to protect the planet. By bandwagoning on these movements, they are creating misleading advertisements and convincing well-intentioned consumers that they are making eco-friendly purchases. In an age of overconsumption and the global supply chain, sustainability has become just another marketing trend.
Kate Augustine is a third year journalism major and a writer for Rowdy Magazine. Unfortunately, she can’t pronounce the word Toyota correctly.