Greenwashing all nice and neat

One might say eco-windup beats even the best zero-emission strategy. Moreover, that massivegreen magnet still manages to attract people with the power of the Large Hadron Collider.

Greenwashing is a well-planned disinformation and lie distribution, expected to create a particularimpression of the brand - the main goal being ecological innocence. Greenwashing paints a picture ofgreen paradise and flowers coming out from a tailpipe instead of sulfur and nitrogen oxides. Thetailpipe is a part of a perfectly eco-friendly car, obviously. So how to spot unethical manipulation?

Why Peter doesn’t ask questions?

Let’s imagine this guy called Peter who few times per week visits his local shop. The brand ownerdecided to become pro-ecological and showed it by removing single-use plastic bags and leaving hiscustomers a choice - “a real reusable bag made of biodegradable synthetic material” for just 1 Euro or nothing. The bag is a real deal, however. It’s technically still plastic, but it says “eco” on one side and“green power of shopping” on the other. Sounds nice, except quite sad if you think about it.

First - its production consumed 3 times more plastic than is used to make a standard bag since the usual plasticbag doesn’t go further than 15 micrograms, and the reusable one way beyond 50. Moreover, morepetroleum had to be used in the production process, which caused massive damage to the climate.

How long will it decompose? Somewhere around 400 years and after two years in the ground or seawater it still will be capable of handling 2 kg of weight - as could be found in Environmental Scienceand Technology.

Let’s be fair to Peter. Does he have to know this? No. But it’s worth checking the power of a simplequestion. Since Peter, just like many others, doesn’t ask, check or challenge brands by changing theirpreferences, the carousel of green disinformation is making another round. And that’s the simplestway to achieve success. Or we can just look at an average Portuguese, who according to the latestEurostat data uses only 8 single-use bags annually.

Forgive us our sins

Let's try to learn more about Peter. He’s tall and slim, with clear facial features, a student of religiousstudies. Piotrek's great dream is to learn about the Baha'i religions, which is why he plans to travel toHaifa, the spiritual and administrative center of the faith.

When buying his plane tickets he learned a new phrase - carbon offset, which means one can neutertheir travel estimated carbon emission.

The CO2 emissions calculator available on the airline's websitehelped Piotr calculate his personal contribution to global warming, only 735 kg of emissions. But holdon - all world religions, including the Baha'i, emphasize the need to meet social needs, consideringthem just as important as prayer and worship.

Without waiting any longer, Peter decides to redeem himself by spending 25 Euro for the neutralizationof emissions related to his planned trip. The list of available options is quite impressive, includingplanting trees in Nigeria, buying cookers for Kenyan housewives, restoring heathlands, utilizingmethane and landfill gas in Chad or treating sewage in Nicaragua - you name it. What a wonderfulidea. After all, Peter has a choice, influence even. His travel means pollution, but the money spent isa redemption act. Except the concept of payments for carbon offset requires additional questions onhow and why Peter spent his 25 Euro.

Here again, let's be fair to Peter - his intentions were clear. But did he verify what exactly the airlinesspent this money on? That’s another story. And more importantly - is this 25 Euro of greencompensation a real equivalent of the emitted pollution? Piotrek does not ask, Piotrek does not check- the company does not respond and does not communicate. Well, he can of course fly to Chad andcheck by himself if the money was used as he wished. It will however come with yet another 650kg ofemission. The neatly packaged eco-demand is doing great. But the point of greenwashing lies not inthe idea of compensation, but in the fact that Peter was not encouraged to limit the number of flights,to begin with, and there were no research or development projects run by the aircraft company.

The power of words and images

To paraphrase Shakespeare "what is sweet to the tongue is acid to the planet". Hence, the easiestway to achieve mastery in the field of greenwashing is through words. The catchy eco-headline, filledwith shades of ubiquitous green, undoubtedly suggests the eco-friendliness of the product.

Well, how else to understand the perfect combination of peas and the prefix eco? When thinking about peas, Peter remembers the taste of his childhood, when he passionately plundered his grandmother's garden in search of green and ecological balls in the shell.

The green projection engulfs Piotrek's mindand settles in his subconsciousness. Check and mate.

Peter becomes defenseless against the power of his inner voice. Take me, buy me. I am your greenfriend. Not some dirty and smelly coal, but eco-pea coal. After all, it is clean, rinsed many times, andgives more energy. You burn it in luxurious low-emission boilers in a smokeless process. Yes! It’s themost ecological choice there is. Full victory. Peter buys it. It will be green. Oh, it will.

Łukasz Smolarek


Łukasz Smolarek

I help my clients to face the challenges of the changing world and also discover the potential of holistic view on human needs as well as our planet’s possibilities.

Łukasz Smolarek
Responsible business strategist and values ​​leadership mentor
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Łukasz Smolarek

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