I don’t know about you, but I get very irate about the lies and deception that prevails unchallenged in this modern world. Yes, you’ve spotted it – I am talking about the rubbish that is dumped on us by the corporate marketing machine.
In illustrating the extent of the problem, I can’t do better than to draw your attention to an article in the New Internationalist (issue 453) written by Danny Chivers and turning the spotlight on eight of the greatest greenwashers. I am sure he won’t mind my creating a précis of his article here, but feel free to check out the original at www.newint.org
So, in no particular order, here are the eight culprits that Danny Chivers has highlighted as ‘twisting the language of sustainability to suit their own plans.’
- Royal Dutch Shell. How it wants to be seen: ‘We are working to produce cleaner energy, to create social benefits, and to integrate social and environmental concerns into the way we do business.’ How it behaves: Like an exterminator who pledges to solve your infestation problem by cutting down the number of rats that he’s releasing secretly into your house each night. What defines it: Getting oil and gas out of the ground by any means available, including controversial fracking, and anywhere on earth, including environmentally sensitive sites such as Canadian tar sands and the Arctic.
- Monsanto. How it wants to be seen: ‘Producing more. Conserving more. Improving lives. That’s sustainable agriculture. And that’s what Monsanto is all about.’ How it behaves: Like a comic book baddie adding mystery contaminants to your water supply – and then asking you to pay them for the trouble. What defines it: Being the world’s biggest producer of genetically modified seeds on the way to fulfilling its objective of having unassailable control over the world’s food supply.
- International Emissions Trading Association [IETA]. How it wants to be seen: ‘IETA members seek to develop an emissions trading regime that results in real and verifiable greenhouse gas emission reductions, while balancing economic efficiency with environmental integrity and social equity.’ How it behaves: Like a smooth-talking kid who persuades the teacher to let his bullying mates out of detention so that they are free to beat you up again. What defines it: Representing the interests of 155 oil corporations, mining companies, power companies, banks and others that benefit from the money-making opportunities of carbon trading.
- Sasol. How it wants to be seen: ‘Our operations are conducted with a sensitivity towards the economic, social and environmental needs of stakeholders. The business is a healthy mix of financial prosperity, balanced with environmental stewardship and social responsibility.’ How it behaves: Like someone pumping toxic waste in through your window and then claiming a government subsidy because it was slightly less toxic than the sludge they pumped last week. What defines it: Being a petrochemical giant operating in 30 countries and specialising in coal-to-liquid technology, even worse for the climate than tar sand exploitation.
- Vale. How it wants to be seen: ‘Vale is committed to the pursuit of sustainable growth . . . operating with respect for the natural environment and being an ethically and socially responsible company.’ How it behaves: Like someone holding a grand launch event for a daffodil they have planted on your front lawn, to distract you from the fact that they have dug up your back garden and trundled it away in the back of a truck. What defines it: Being the world’s second largest metals and mining company, self-reporting carbon emissions that rose from 15 million tonnes to 20 million tonnes between 2007 and 2010.
- HSBC. How it wants to be seen: ‘Achieving sustainable profits for our shareholders, building long-lasting relationships with customers, valuing our highly committed employees, respecting environmental limits and investing in communities.’ How it behaves: Like a bank. What defines it: The making of money out of money. The second largest public company in the world, it is also one of the least ethical, investing in coalmining, offshore oil extraction, tar sands, destructive mega-dams, tax avoidance, unsustainable logging, repressive regimes and the arms trade.
- Amyris. How it wants to be seen: ‘Amyris is passionately committed to addressing our sustainable energy needs with plant-based feedstocks to enable a smarter generation of renewable technology in the future.’ How it behaves: Like someone promising to reduce your motoring costs by turning all the food in your kitchen into enough petroleum to drive your car for five minutes. What defines it: Using synthetic biology to produce biofuel, fed by giant monoculture plantations of sugar cane that consume valuable food-growing land and wilderness areas, that are fertilised by fossil fuel products and that create abysmal labour standards.
- The Bipartisan Policy Center. How it wants to be seen: ‘The BPC drives principled solutions through rigorous analysis, reasoned negotiation, and respectful dialogue.’ How it behaves: Like someone whispering in the ear of the Titanic’s captain, “Don’t worry. No need to change course. Our hull-mounted underwater iceberg-melting flamethrower is definitely going to be ready soon.” What defines it: Acting as a lobby group for its sponsors, which include oil, drugs and biotech giants, to create a more favourable political climate by influencing public debate and policymaking on ‘technofixes’ for climate change.
So there we have it – a random selection of the worst greenwashers out there. Are they the only ones? No, not by a long way. This world is run on greed and profit, and any organisation, large or small, primarily concerned with profit is likely to conceal its true purpose and its tactics beneath a blanket of greenwashed marketing platitudes. Wherever possible, we should not do business with such crooks. We should turn instead to our local economies and do business face-to-face with people whose success depends on credibility and transparency.