In the 1970s, such an advertisement appeared on the air of American television channels. A Native American canoe down the river and sees garbage in the water. He walks ashore and looks at the bottles and glasses scattered everywhere, and then walks to the highway, where a bag of rubbish flies from the window of a passing car at his feet. The man turns, looks at the camera, a tear runs down his cheek. A voice is heard off-screen: “People start pollution. People can stop it.”
This video was created by Keep America Beautiful, which started in the 1950s and still exists today. Its mission is to foster care for the environment.
In the 2010s, the company released a commercial for “I want to be recycled”. In the video, a lone plastic bottle rolls along the road, desert, forest and among the mountains, until a young man picks it up and throws it into a container for separate collection.
Finding a catch in these commercials is difficult. No one will argue that throwing garbage is bad. But these videos convince people that the responsibility for the pollution of the planet rests only on their shoulders. They don’t talk about how big companies are harming the environment. The fact is that Keep America Beautiful was founded by two major packaging manufacturers: cans and glass containers. And later, the organization’s partners were Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Nestle – the top 3 main polluters of the planet with plastic.
The method used in these two videos is called greenwashing. This concept is used when a company positions itself as “greener” (in one way or another taking care of the environment) than it really is. Greenwashing is also called greenwashing when a company tries to distract consumers from the fact that its activities lead to environmental pollution. A video with a crying man makes the viewer feel ashamed for a bottle thrown out in the wrong place and forget for a while about how large companies harm nature.
Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Nestle have been at the center of greenwashing scandals more than once. In February 2020, the Earth Island Institute filed a lawsuit against these and other major companies for lying about plastic recycling. In their complaint, eco-activists give such an example. Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Unilever and Nestle advertise their products as recyclable, but do not mention that they themselves use virtually no recycled plastic, preferring cheap primary. In the case of Coca-Cola, only 9% of the packaging is made from recycled plastic. PepsiCo has 3%, Nestlé 2%, and Unilever less than 1%.
Eco-activists also draw attention to the complaint that by advertising their products as recyclable, companies are violating the Green Guides set by the US Federal Trade Commission. The document states that a product or packaging may be designated as recyclable only if conditions are created in the place where it is sold. In other words, a bottle can only be called recyclable if it is actually recycled.
Why do companies pretend to be “green”
In 2018, independent marketing measurement firm Nielsen presented the results of a global survey of how consumers’ mindsets are changing. It turned out that 73% of consumers support the idea of sustainable development and understand the importance of preserving the environment. Consumers are willing to pay more for organic products (41%), products that do not harm the environment (38%) and support social responsibility (30%).
That is why the words “organic”, “natural” and “sustainable” are increasingly used on packaging. But they don’t always correspond to reality. In some cases, companies are simply trying to follow a general trend. For example, Ryanair ran an advertisement in the media in 2019 that described itself as the airline with “the lowest carbon emissions in Europe.” The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) banned Ryanair from using such language and called it “inaccurate.”
The desire to appear “green” is also associated with an increase in the amount of capital for responsible investing. Responsible investing is an approach to investing money that takes into account environmental, social and governance factors. According to PwC, the capital for responsible investing has grown by a third every two years from 2014 to 2018. The study says that 83% of investors pay attention to climate risks. Often they use a strategy of exclusion, that is, they exclude assets related to, for example, mining from their portfolios.
This is one of the reasons that prompting oil and gas companies to focus not on their core business, but on caring for the environment. For example, in 2018, Shell CEO Ben van Beurden said it was necessary to start massive reforestation in order to limit the temperature rise on the planet. In the same 2018, Shell supported a ban on the sale of new gasoline and diesel vehicles in the UK by 2040. And a year earlier, Shell bought NewMotion, one of Europe’s largest electric vehicle charging networks.
The company actively creates a “green” image for itself, but does not change the essence of its business. In 2018, Shell approved a $ 12 billion liquefied natural gas project in Canada. A 2020 report from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) says that fossil fuels still account for about 90% of Shell’s capital expenditures.
Companies are taking different steps to appear to be more environmentally responsible. In the summer of 2020, Amazon acquired the rights to the Seattle-based KeyArena sports complex and renamed it the Climate Pledge Arena. The new name is associated with the project of the same name, launched by Amazon in 2019 and aimed at the complete elimination of industrial carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere by 2040. The Climate Pledge Arena will use 100% renewable electricity and will use rainwater to fill the ice rink.
Greenpeace USA called this move Amazon greenwashing. In May 2020, Greenpeace USA urged Amazon, Microsoft and Google to stop entering into commercial deals that fuel the oil and gas industry. “If Amazon really cared about our planet, it would break its contracts that help fossil fuel companies produce more oil, rather than making this pointless and costly PR stunt,” says Elizabeth Jardim, senior corporate activist at Greenpeace USA.
Greenwashing and punishment
In 2011, then-California attorney general Kamala Harris sued three companies for misleading buyers by advertising their plastic water bottles as “fully biodegradable and recyclable.” Legal Newsline called the lawsuit the first step towards enforcing government environmental marketing laws.
The beverage makers AquaMantra and Balance sold them in bottles to ENSO, which produces plastic packaging with a special ingredient. ENSO claimed that the additive would decompose their bottles and plastic containers completely within one to five years: in landfills, in compost and even on the side of the road. But plastic does not completely biodegrade, and the attorney general said such language could lead people buying products in these bottles to dispose of them incorrectly, thinking they biodegrade quickly.
In addition, the companies violated California law that restricts the use of the word “biodegradable” on the labels of plastic beverage containers. As a result, AquaMantra and Balance were obliged not to use such wording anymore and to pay fines. And ENSO to post on its website a warning that California law prohibits the sale of plastic packaging and plastic products that are labeled “biodegradable” or “degradable.”
In 2013, Naked Juice, a company owned by PepsiCo, paid $ 9 million in compensation. A class action lawsuit was filed against her, accusing her of falsely labeling some of the juices as “all natural”. The company agreed to stop using this wording on labels, but continued to deny that it was misleading anyone.
In 2015, a scandal erupted around the German automobile concern Volkswagen, dubbed Dieselgate. The company has manipulated its customers by using the Clean Diesel name and claiming that their diesel-powered vehicles have lower CO2 emissions compared to 93% of other vehicles.
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) investigated and found out that Volkswagen equipped its diesel vehicles with special software: it underestimates emissions of harmful substances during testing of diesel vehicles. The main pollutant was nitrogen oxides, which exceeded the norm by almost 40 times. A total of 11 million cars with such software were produced, about 590 thousand of them ended up in the American market. In five years, the amount of fines and compensation payments in the United States alone exceeded $ 20 billion. The former head of the concern will face trial, he is suspected of commercial fraud committed by prior agreement.
In 2017, the wholesale and retail chain Walmart was accused of greenwashing. The company’s malls sold plastic products labeled “biodegradable” in violation of California law. The court banned Walmart from selling plastic products with such marks or labeling them as “compostable” if this claim is not supported by a scientific certificate. The court also ordered the company to pay $ 875,000 in administrative fines and an additional $ 50,000 to test plastic products it sold as compostable or biodegradable.
Amazon filed similar claims in court in 2018: for “biodegradable” plastic goods and “compostable” plastic items without proper certification. Amazon agreed to pay $ 1,512,400 in fines and investigation costs.
In October 2019, Massachusetts authorities filed a 200-page lawsuit against the American oil giant ExxonMobil. The company has been accused of systematic greenwashing in which its leadership has publicly denied human impact on climate change for decades, and ExxonMobil’s advertising campaigns create a “deceptive” impression among consumers that burning fossil fuels does not have a significant impact on climate change. Oil company lawyers appeal to the First Amendment, which protects freedom of speech and expression. The lawsuit is not over yet.
In December 2019, environmental law charity ClientEarth filed a complaint against oil and gas company BP. The complaint said BP was deliberately misleading consumers by highlighting its renewable energy investments – as if they were a large part of its business model. Although, as indicated in the document, 96% of BP’s annual expenses fall on oil and gas. Also in an advertising campaign launched by BP, gas was called the “excellent”, “ideal” and “smart” renewable energy satellite that will enable the transition from conventional energy to green. Although in reality gas has a significant negative impact on the environment, ClientEarth experts emphasized. In February 2020, BP discontinued this ad campaign.
Sophie Marjanac, head of climate reporting and attorney for ClientEarth, says fossil fuel ads should be accompanied by warnings similar to those printed on cigarette packs: fossil fuels are causing climate change. “A warning sign like this will help educate the public about climate change in general, as well as shed light on the egregious behavior of a sector that has slowed climate action over the years and contributed more than any other industry to the climate crisis.”
Greenwashing in Russia: what examples are there and how they fight it
“Eco-friendly” and “organic” products are sold better not only in Europe and the USA, so they are more and more on the shelves of Russian stores. But it is difficult not only for an ordinary consumer, but also for an expert to recognize examples of greenwashing among them. “Until we studied the manufacturer’s documentation, did not understand what exactly is in this product, did not go to the plant, that is, did not conduct a full study, we cannot be sure how the inscription on the packaging corresponds to reality,” says Yulia Gracheva, Ph.D. … She is the director of the Ecological Union, a member of the board of directors of the World Ecolabelling Association (GEN) and the head of the central body of the ecological certification system “Leaf of Life”
The only instrument currently available for checking a product for “environmental friendliness” is an environmental certificate, explains Gracheva: “If there is an eco-label, then some independent expert organization has checked and confirmed the manufacturer’s statement.”
In Russia, companies that decide to declare their product “green” and do not pass this certification act in several ways. The most primitive is the fake labeling of a non-existent organization, says Gracheva: “You can just draw some kind of badge that doesn’t really mean anything.” The second way is to take a well-known marking and put it without confirmation of certification. “It is still possible to fight this. We are tracking such stories with the Leaf of Life and demand that manufacturers remove this marking,” the expert says.
“There is also a third method,” continues Gracheva. “Now in Russia there are many pseudo-certifications: for example, Rosekoprodukt, the International Ecological Fund and others. Why do I call them pseudo? In such systems, as a rule, there are no clear criteria, which are awarded a certificate, and the certification body (inspection organization) itself does not have state accreditation, although this is required by law. There are also organizations that simply issue certificates for money without any verification of goods. ”
The growing interest in segregated waste collection and packaging recycling is leading to examples of greenwashing in this area as well. “Eco-friendly” materials instead of plastic bottles are proving even more difficult to recycle, says Yulia Gracheva:
“Recently, Waterful water appeared in Russia in a tetrapak, it is advertised everywhere. This is an example of greenwashing. They replaced a plastic bottle with a tetrapack, but in this regard it is worse than plastic, because there are many more possibilities for PET recycling, and it is enough to recycle a tetrapack. an energy-intensive task. And there are still very, very few points for receiving tetrapak in Russia. ”
“There is also Ecolean packaging. For example, dairy products are produced in such packaging. It is a thin composite material, and companies are positioning it as environmentally friendly packaging because it is lightweight and requires fewer resources to produce it. But this is covered by the fact that it cannot be recycled. , – explains the expert. – Again, it’s one thing when it comes to a PET bottle, which can be recycled and made into the same bottle, but from Ecolean or doy-pack you cannot make a new similar packaging, completely returning the raw material back to the life cycle not happening”.
There are still few examples of combating greenwashing in courts or at the level of regulatory authorities in Russia: there is no legislative framework. In August 2018, a law on organic products was adopted, designed to regulate the field of organic products: that is, a product labeled “organic product” or “organic product” cannot appear on store shelves if it does not have the appropriate certificate. For violation of this law, the manufacturer faces a fine. “All other statements -” bio “,” eco “,” green “- are not regulated in any way. Probably, they can be prosecuted under the law on advertising or the law on unfair competition, but there are practically no such examples,” says the director of Ecological union.
In her opinion, while there are no laws prohibiting misinforming buyers, public initiatives, bloggers and the media react to greenwashing – sometimes quite successfully: “There was a story with the Synergetic brand (a manufacturer of household chemicals), when they began to pressure that they were using a pseudo-certificate. under the influence of the public, they were forced to obtain a real, international ICEA certification, and not a fake one for some of their products. “