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It Ain’t Easy Being Greenwashed

By Elizabeth Major on November 20, 2014 in Other

Photo: Jim Henson

Photo: Jim Henson

Whether it is believed to be anthropogenic or merely a natural cycle of the Earth, there is no doubt that climate change is in fact happening and the ability to stop or even reverse its effects is now being used as a marketable and highly saleable product for corporations worldwide.

Moved by the feverish urgency of global warming, consumers are pushed toward ‘eco-friendly’, ‘green’ and ‘sustainable’ mark-ups that may do little more than assuage our environmental guilt. Whether humans hold the ability to change their lifestyle completely, we have been told repeatedly that the power of the individual to instigate change happens with the dollar. There is no denying that placing a quantifiable value on the planet is the best way to inspire an immediate response from a society that revolves around the process of generating income.

Companies seized this premise and have been able to cash in on it. A new era of ‘natural capitalism’ has emerged. In the delicate intersection between environmental recovery and economic growth, consumers are forced to stand between their comfort zone and the unknown area of sustainable development.

Climate Change presented a problem that required a solution. Corporations were able to package and sell us back ethical consumption as an alternative solution. Appropriating the language of climatologists, the appealing products and services have been given labels such as ‘green’, ‘sustainable’, and ‘environmentally friendly’, obscuring the capitalist agenda. Now known as ‘greenwashing’ or ‘eco-labelling’, one product with the same value as another can be priced higher for its supposed ability to save the planet. In the same way that health claims in food can be an expensive influence on consumer behaviour, the economic growth of the world is increasing despite the constant warnings of environmental degradation.

With the release of the Academy Award winning documentary ‘An Inconvenient Truth’, Al Gore charmed the world with correlation graphs, causative assumptions, dramatic overlay and scenes of global disaster. Closely after this came various publications including Tim Flannery’s ‘We Are The Weather Makers’, where we were encouraged to fight the ‘war on climate change’ by spending our money more prudently in eco-products. The very clear endorsement of the Toyota Prius preceded some of the biggest increases in annual sales for Toyota.

More recently, the Gillard government offered us the alternative solution to cannibalistic consumption of the Earth by introducing a carbon tax. Met with criticism, the carbon tax lasted only two years, and while it did show a decrease in carbon emissions, the effect this had on the environment was not sufficiently quantifiable enough to prove its efficacy.

Much like the carbon tax, carbon offset corporations have been able to gain profit from our carbon-phobia. By offering to plant trees or process dangerous methane releasing waste, the idea of offsetting carbon emissions was behind an ‘optional’ extra charge to certain products and services. Rather than encouraging the reduction of carbon emissions, these companies promised to level out the playing field by counteracting the emissions with a positive change.

This kind of corporate reasoning takes away the ideals of environmental conservation and merely assuages the guilt of the company and consumer. Whether planting enough trees will truly offset the emissions, whether those trees are effective in offsetting carbon and whether they are even planted at all are among the speculations of these companies. The problem here is that carbon is not the only problem. Even if it could be unequivocally proven that climate change is an anthropogenic problem, there are other ‘greenhouse’ gases that also contribute to global warming.

In the end, our value as a green society is more than just our consumer power. It lies within our awareness and conscious conservation methods. Solutions are not packaged in plastic and truly natural products do not have labels anyway.


  1. Randwick Council has an Enviromental Levy
    Isnt it just a way or rebadging a rates increase?
    Conservation and environmental expenditure by council doesn’t need to separated from general expenditure within the Community by Council.

    Posted by: Councillor Geoff Stevenson | November 23, 2014, 10:17 AM |

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