climate change

[OPINION] ‘Greenwashing’ it down with drinks and denial

John Leo C. Algo
[OPINION] ‘Greenwashing’ it down with drinks and denial
'Let us not get lost amid the colorful commercials and marketing hype, and recognize that no amount of money can withstand the wrath of nature scorned'

For climate and environmental action, the last few months of the year are the most critical time. This past September saw the climate crisis as a key issue tackled at the week-long events of the UN General Assembly. A global conference on biodiversity will be held in Canada in December to plan how humankind would live in harmony with nature, which has been declining due to its collective activities.

With all the buzz and hype for meaningful change also come opportunities for businesses to capitalize. For years, we have seen companies portray themselves to be on the side of green action, only to block the implementation of policies and solutions that would benefit billions of people for the sake of filling their already-loaded pockets with money.

We should be aware of these attempts at “greenwashing,” including the recent announcement by a famous corporation.

‘Real magic’

The news of Coca-Cola being announced as a major sponsor for the upcoming global climate negotiations in Egypt (COP27) has not been well-received by environmental groups. The company is the world’s largest producer of plastics, which are made from the same fossil fuels such as coal and gas that intensifies global warming. This not only makes it partially responsible for the global plastic pollution, but also for the climate crisis to which the Philippines is one of the most vulnerable.

While the company does have some environmental initiatives, the fact remains that at the very core of its business model is plastics, to which it has shown no signs of breaking away from. It is unethical to have such company, arguably the worst plastic polluter, sponsor an event whose purpose directly contradicts its ways of maximizing profits. 

How can we expect the climate negotiations, which would help decide our collective future, to deliver the actions we need when it is likely to be undermined by fossil fuel-dependent corporations from the PR stage to the negotiating table? 

It becomes an even bigger slap to the face that companies like Coca Cola are allowed to have a seat in the negotiations when representatives of the most vulnerable peoples like the youth and indigenous peoples have to jump through hoops just to be able to attend in-person. 

There are many reasons why there have been 27 rounds of global talks about the climate crisis, yet not enough progress has been made and we are all paying the price for it. One of those reasons, without question, is this kind of greenwashing.

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Here is another example of greenwashing that may apply to many businesses and nations worldwide.

Imagine being in a corporation that puts itself in a position to invest a big part of its future in dirty energy like coal and gas, even though said fuels are causing the climate crisis and would become economically unviable in the near-future. 

Years later, the investment does not pay off as many expected. Your corporation loses billions largely due to those decisions made back then, knowing the risks involved. And then you try to make a case that the lost billions should be passed on to electricity consumers, with the threat of canceling contracts that could lead to energy insecurity in many communities.

You try to justify this move as protecting the interest of electricity consumers, saying that it is only a temporary price hike and that it would be more costly for everyone if your case to charge the consumers for the losses for which you are responsible is not granted. 

Can you imagine a corporation that wants to charge consumers for its mistakes and still publicly claim it is protecting the interest of consumers? 

When these people, who are already burdened by not just expensive electricity bills but also rising food prices and transport expenses, are asked to sacrifice even more just so a corporation that makes tens of billions every year anyway can recover their losses, that is obviously not protecting the interest of consumers. Or does “consumers” and “shareholders” mean the same in their dictionary? 

This is also not aligned with its claim of support for sustainability, especially if it keeps funding coal and gas projects and building environmentally destructive infrastructures. When you depend too much on carbon, money talks so loudly every other noise is drowned out. 

Can you imagine if a corporation actually does all of these? 

Who knows if such an entity exists, but one thing is undisputable: elements of this case certainly apply to many cases around the world. The example shown above, in a nutshell, is also greenwashing.

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The same side?

This is not to say that businesses are incapable of being a genuine part of climate and environmental action. It would take years to implement a full transition of their business models and practices towards greener ones. 

What is unacceptable is when corporations publicly commit to reducing pollution and pursuing sustainable practices, and then let their actions speak the exact opposite. By doing so, they are disregarding the well-being of the general public, making fools out of us, and knowingly causing harm to the most vulnerable communities to which they must be held accountable.

Let us not get lost amid the colorful commercials and marketing hype, and recognize that no amount of money can withstand the wrath of nature scorned. Always remember that humankind does not own nature; we are a part of it. And every time we think otherwise, we will always be reminded that we are the ones who adapt to our environment.

Money is not the kind of “green” that matters the most. We all must learn this lesson. –

John Leo Algo is a member of the Youth Advisory Group on Climate and Environmental Justice under the UNDP Asia-Pacific, and an EE 30 Under 30, Class of 2022 Awardee by the North American Association for Environmental Education. He is a climate and environment journalist since 2016. 

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