Emma Thompson’s recent article on greenwashing (Greenwashing is driving our descent into climate catastrophe. But we can stop it, 2 August) rightly points out how fossil fuel companies have delayed and deceived us for decades with their false promises. The bluster of greenwash reaches far beyond the oil and gas industry, however, and pervades a vast number of sectors, collectively blinding us to the scale of change needed and obscuring where the true solutions lie.
Last year, outside London Fashion Week (without permission) we launched our website, www.greenwash.com, which highlights the vast array of greenwashing tactics used by the fashion industry, and we have since added examples from plastics and packaging. By seeing examples “in the wild” we hope to help citizens, company employees and policymakers learn to become super-detectors for greenwashing.
Greenwashing misleads us; it’s unfair to businesses making the right changes, and it acts as a giant placebo – making us think that change is happening when it’s not.
Activism is an important route to change, but it doesn’t always need to mean taking to the streets. Cases of greenwashing can be submitted to both the Competition and Markets Authority and the Advertising Standards Authority, with the EU and US soon to update their mechanisms for tackling it. Action here will help to set a precedent that false marketing will not be tolerated, and drive companies to provide full evidence for what they deem to be green.
Campaign manager, Changing Markets Foundation
We need many more like Emma Thompson to speak out often and loudly. Most of us feel absolutely helpless. In the 1970s there was a successful boycott of all South African goods, because of apartheid, and we went out of our way to make sure we did not buy anything from South Africa. What we need now is a web platform with the reach of Facebook or Google to capture appropriate worldwide boycotts of companies that do nothing, or greenwash their activities.
Wellington, New Zealand
Is advertising the real issue? I don’t think so. Reflecting on the impact of the anti-smoking campaign, challenging advertising might change some people’s minds by prompting them to question the fossil fuel companies’ propaganda, but would this lead to the urgent change that is essential? And as we know, these companies move rapidly to exploit different channels and sidestep the restrictions. It will tackle the symptoms rather than the cause. The exploitation and use of fossil fuels is powering an existential threat to the global population in which it effectively has no choice or say.
Fossil fuel companies are able to achieve this because they are not required to absorb their externalities, the costs of which they impose on the community.
These are almost incalculable – including pollution, plastics, environmental destruction and corruption. If this industry were required to account for these costs, fossil fuels would stay in the ground and the industry would collapse. That is the issue which demands an urgent global political response. Banning advertising is worthy, but in the last analysis simply a gesture. The time for gestures has passed.
Emma Thompson is clearly an eco-warrior rightly seeking to ban fossil fuel advertising and sponsorship, but she cannot undo the negative contribution she and other high-profile celebrities have done to the cause over many years being among the 1% of fliers responsible for up to one half of total carbon emissions from commercial and private aircraft. Who can forget her 5,400-mile trip to and from California to be in the Extinction Rebellion protest boat in 2019, a journey that emitted 1.6 tonnes of carbon?