Despite how the title might seem, I don’t actually like the term “greenwash”. There are various levels of green-washing (a superficial or insincere display of concern for the environment that is shown by an organization) from exaggeration to the downright nefarious. Plus I’m a glass half-full kind of person and without a doubt most companies can do more, but even small steps are steps in the right direction. Rome wasn’t built in a day and all that! But for the purposes of this post I’m going to borrow the term.
I advocate for management systems, certification, labels and commitment from industry. Promises to reduce certain products, to use sustainable products or boycott products all together can be fantastic moves towards reducing environmental impact.
But it’s far more complex than that…
The term sustainability is thrown around much too readily for my liking, originally defined by the Bruntland Report for the World Commission on Environment and Development in 1992 as “Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” the term is much debated and often skewed to suit an organisation. Though frequently used in terms of finance, it is widely accepted that the term includes a commitment not only to the economy but also to the environment and wider society. This is often referred to as the “Three Ps” People, Planet, Profit.
And when it comes to environmental credentials what we need to remember is that EVERYTHING has an environmental impact to some degree or another. And just because a company is shouting about something good that they are doing, does not mean that they are doing other things particularly well. The issues are often vast and complex.
Take boycotts for example, “Yay! Great! We’ve banned this unpopular product. Look at us we are so environmentally friendly!” BUT… what are you going to replace it with? What are the environmental impacts of said replacement? What effect will there be on the livelihoods of the people involved in the production of that product? What else might you be selling that isn’t so environmentally friendly?
Certification standards can be notoriously easy to manipulate, statistics can be fudged and supply chains are not always as transparent as they could be. We as consumers need to ask for hard facts and figures to back up claims, demand more rigorous data and ensure we read between the lines and be wary about taking everything at face value.
To use big supermarkets as an example, there’s a lot of focus on reducing plastic, and selling Fairtrade, sustainable, yet they all still sell meat. Meat production (specifically beef) is one of the most carbon intensive processes on the planet (that’s not to mention the often unfavourable welfare standards and questionable processing). It’s all about profit, supply and demand. We have to be realistic, baby steps are often all that can be taken and any environmental commitment is better that than nothing at all.
As consumers what we can all do is make smart buying choices, keep digging deeper, ask those questions, push for transparency and drive forward positive change.