In this blog post, guest author, Eleni Polychroniadou, discusses why declaring a climate emergency without implementing any actions is just Greenwashing.

What is Greenwashing

The term “Greenwashing” is typically used to point an accusation finger against companies trying to make themselves appear sustainable or environmentally friendly.

Simply put, “Greenwashing” is a form of marketing that creates the perception that a company’s products, aims or policies are “green”.

There are some companies that misrepresent themselves as being greener than they truly are. This practice of dishonesty is known as “Greenwashing”, and although most people have never heard of it, greenwashing is extremely prevalent in today’s market.

Greenwashing can take on a variety of different forms, from changing the name or label of a product to advertising campaigns highlighting the eco-friendliness of a particular business.

In TerraChoice’s 2010 report on environmental claims made among CPG brands, “The Sins of Greenwashing, Home and Family Edition,” they laid out the seven sins of greenwashing.(See the full seven sins summary HERE)

  1. The Hidden Trade-Off
  2. Lack of Proof
  3. Vagueness 
  4. Irrelevance
  5. The Lesser of Two Evils
  6. Fibbing
  7. The Worshiping of False Labels

If companies falsely claim to be more environmentally friendly than they truly are, it could ultimately end up painting them in an even worse light than if they hadn’t tried to appear green at all.

As professional branding and packaging designers, we need to speak up and put together a business case when we suspect Greenwashing rather than simply hunkering down just to get “the job” and pushing back against the client.

How to Avoid Greenwashing

Far and wide, we have seen councils, cities, and even businesses in some cases, declaring a climate emergency. A part of me celebrates this success – people are finally waking up to the reality that we are in a climate crisis! But an equal part of me feels quite cynical.

It’s starting to look like declaring a climate emergency is the new megatrend – plastic straws round two – where after the initial applause or sense of success, we realise the impact is actually not that great.

To be clear: Declaring a climate emergency without implementing any actions is green-washing.

If we truly want to avoid this, there are 5 key elements that all jurisdictions should be including in climate emergency declarations.

  1. Get the Decision-Making Framework Right

The first and foremost is to integrate climate change as the lens through which decisions are being made.

  1. Use the Right Data

Businesses, cities and councils should be analysing the impact of their policies and using data to make the best decisions possible.

  1. Be Ambitious in Target-Setting

All governments and businesses need to aim high and set ambitious targets for net zero carbon, even if they aren’t sure how they can achieve them.

  1. Collaborate Across Sectors

If governments, councils, businesses, and civic society, exchanged ideas and collaborated more on effective policies and change, we could accelerate the pace of change.

  1. Be Transparent in the Journey

Transparency builds trust in the process and allows for an iterative journey, where honest mistakes can be made and learnt from, particularly if the targets are high.

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