Greenwash detector

Greenwash is the duplicitous art of passing off policies, projects or actions as environmentally friendly, when in fact they serve other purposes. In short – lying about creating environmental benefits.

Various groups are challenging corporate and other forms of greenwash, particularly from oil companies and banks. Also the whole UN edifice of climate change talks and policies.

Greenwash news updates are here.

Why is a greenwash detector necessary? 

Governments, international bodies like the United Nations, companies, other organisations and individual members of the public feel the need to be seen to be changing their ways and greening their act, because there is strong evidence that our current way of life isn’t sustainable, and that we need to reduce carbon emissions asap. So claiming to act in environmentally-friendly ways creates a “halo effect”  - it makes you look angelic, virtuous. Similar to the “halo effect” that people seek at exit polls, when they lie about having voted for nasty parties.

But often organisations and people don’t  really want to change at all –  real change might  lose them their privileged positions, or give them the hassle of working out different ways of doing things.  There are all kinds of reasons for the gap between values and action, rhetoric and reality, that is a characteristic of greenwash.

This is particularly marked in terms of how transnational companies influence government and international climate change policies and programmes.

The group Ethical Consumer says UK banking is the ”most unethical” business sector in the UK.  It found that the ‘Big Five’ banks – Barclays, RBS, Lloyds, Santander and HSBC – are widely involved in corporate malpractice, greenwash and investments in climate changing industries like coal mining, deforestation, and fossil fuel-based energy generation.

“The 85 per cent of the UK’s population that bank with the Big Five banks will be appalled to learn that their money is being used to support a corporate culture that stands accused of everything from tax avoidance to exacerbating global hunger,” according to Rob Harrison, co-author of Ethical Consumer Banking Report.

So a greenwash detector is useful.

Greenwash guide – thanks to Futerra

From Futerra greenwash guide

Here are some questions to help detect greenwash:

  • who’s proposing the policy, programme or project?
  • what are the benefits and who gets them?
  • what are the costs and who pays for them?
  • do you understand it?
  • if not, can you get the originator, their supporters or your elected representative to give you a clear, satisfactory explanation?
  • was this policy/programme/project the result of lobbying politicians?
  • if so, who did the lobbying and where did they get their money from?
  • will it effectively reduce carbon emissions and/or promote the use of affordable, sustainable energy?
  • does it treat the atmosphere, other elements of the environment and sustainable energy as something that we all need and should hold in common, or as a source of private profits?
  • is it based on some kind of an appeal to fear?
  • does it require the public to bear the costs of market or regulatory failure?