What is Green Washing

12 Mar

Many people think of “Green Washing” when a company lies about its green accolades and achievements to make it sound better.  Yeah, it is bad to lie, but is it really bad for the environment?  Actually, green washing is a good sign, it means that they know their stakeholders care about the environment, and they are listening.  They might not be acting, but at least they are paying lip service to it.  The good thing is that there is more demand for accountability and transparency now, and it is not easy to ruin a companies reputation by posting a nasty youtube video exposing how bad they actually are.   This makes companies scared, and when they are scared they will gladly invest in actually doing things to satisfy their stakeholders.  Maybe the lies about their green activities is a good thing, because each time they stick their nose out further they commit themselves to doing a little bit more for fear of stakeholders finding out the truth.

The Green Washing I am far more concerned about is another kind.  It is those who actually care for the environment and so do everything they can to make their lifestyle green, and then have the audacity to act and think like they are doing the earth a favor.  While it may be good they are adopting a green lifestyle, the consequential ego and moral boost it gives them is counterproductive to dealing with climate change.

I call it “Green Washing” because they wash their own hands in green activities and then think that they have done enough.   It is as if saying, “look, I didn’t put all that CO2 in the atmosphere; I am not responsible for climate change, everyone else is.”  So long as their lives are sustainable they will feel good about themselves, and they can absolve responsibility and turn their noses up at the rest of the less environmentally enlightened world.

I know these kinds of people exist mainly because I have had friends like this, and would at even point call myself a green washer.  I eventually realized that I was being green to emotionally make myself feel good, and at the same time beginning to look down on others who did not do the same.   Unfortunately, that kind of self-responsible thinking is simply not enough.  A motivated as they are, an elite vanguard of environmentally conscious citizenry will not be able to effectively deal with climate change.  All the efforts they make to reduce their carbon footprints are a drop in the bucket compared to those who are willing to use dirty energy to improve their standards of living.

The antidote to green washing is realizing that to effectively fight climate change we cannot just be responsible for our own activities, but also need to reach out to those who we may not like or agree with (dirty energy companies, politicians, conservatives, “the man”) and find some common ground for working together.   This means compromising some of our ideals to do things like support the bad policies and actors over the worst.

That said, I would much rather support a company that lies about its environmental progress than one who does not care about the environment at all.

– Green Heretic


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