Does Big Tech ‘greenwash’ its environmental responsibilities before COP26?

, a UN conference on climate change called “” to prevent the most devastating effects of global warming, begins in Glasgow on Sunday. Delegates from around the world will meet with the goal of achieving “” greenhouse gas emissions by the middle of the century and maintaining the temperature of our planet, which is rapidly warming to a more tolerable 1.5 degrees Celsius, instead of catastrophic.

With the eyes of the world firmly focused on the catastrophic management of humanity’s planet so far and wondering what could be done to correct our past pollution, leading technology companies have become increasingly vocal in their promises to reform business operations to help “save the planet.”

Apple, for example, announced the launch of 10 new environmental projects as part of its Power for Impact initiative, and that 175 of its suppliers will switch to renewable energy, the company said on Tuesday, and that by 2030, every device that the company sales will have zero climate impact. The company also noted that it has already reduced its carbon emissions by 40 percent over the past five years.

Google, on the other hand, has indicated its goal of achieving net zero emissions “in all of our operations and value chain by 2030,” it said on Monday. The company also called for its efforts to help its partners reduce their own emissions, such as the Environmental Insights Explorer (EIE) program, which helps cities map their data on pollution, air quality and solar energy potential. Google also made sure to mention that its products are actually intended for consumers.


Microsoft did: to be “carbon negative by 2030 and by 2050 remove from the environment all the carbon the company has emitted, either directly or by electricity consumption since its inception in 1975,” before explaining the rapidly growing efficiency of its huge data centers .

Amazon, for its part, announced that its $ 2 billion investment program has selected three low-carbon startups: Resilient Power, which produces transformer-based electric vehicle charging technology; CMC Machinery, manufacturer of custom delivery boxes; and Infinium, which devised “ultra-low-carbon fuels that can be used in air transport, maritime freight, and the heavy truck fleet,” per.

But do these protests about environmental progress signify Big Tech’s legitimate effort to clean up its collective act or are they simply more PR trying to make up for their bad behavior? Because we have already seen this kind of behavior. This is called green washing.

What is Greenwashing?

defines green washing as “an expression of concern for the environment, especially as a cover for products, policies or activities.” The term was first coined in 1986 by an ecologist in an essay examining leaving posters in guest rooms warning them to reuse their towels to help “save the environment.” Then people: newspapers, television and radio – the same sources for almost all commercials at the time. This imbalance in the availability of information has created a system in which corporations could promote themselves in any flattering shade they want, regardless of their actual actions, with little fear that the public will really realize that there has even been deception.

The practice of green washing in America dates back to 1953 – although it was not called that at the time – when beverage producers launched a campaign, reminding the public to be good environmentalists, not rubbish, which was actually an effort to prevent new regulations on the use of disposable containers. Greenwashing metastasized in the 1980s when Big Oil companies gave their own praise while global warming was also present. These companies have gone so far as to actively work to prevent the government from doing so. But you wouldn’t know that from their television commercials.

The video above is from Chevron’s People Do campaign. It should be noted that many of the programs promoted in that campaign were in fact actions approved by the government and that while this campaign lasted, Chevron was repeatedly found to be violating, and that he was caught.

Exxon’s actions during the ’90s were equally disgusting. The company has been constantly stirring water around the role of humanity in climate change, as the burning of fossil fuels has fueled a growing crisis.

In 2017, ExxonMobil’s communication on climate change (both internal correspondence and public advertising newspaper content) produced between 1977 and 2014 found that, although more than 80 percent of internal documents acknowledged that human activity was highly to the extent responsible for global warming, only 12 percent of the company’s promotional materials did the same.

“Within hours of the publication of our study, ExxonMobil responded to ad hominem attacks,” said Harvard researcher Geoffrey Supran. last year. “I was invited by the European Parliament to testify about ExxonMobil’s history of climate change denial. The day before, they sent a private letter to MPs (which has now leaked) to try to discredit me. If these experiences tell us anything, it’s that the Exxon tiger hasn’t changed its stripes . “

Green washing in the modern era

Greenwashing remains a widely used marketing tactic even today – and not just during.

Take bottled water, for example. Nestle alone has spent millions of dollars on advertisements in recent years in an effort to convince the public that, as it claimed in 2008, “bottled water is the most environmentally responsible consumer product in the world.” Despite the fact that barely 31 percent of plastic bottles for water and the rest they end up burying landfills and oceans – scientists estimate that the eye.

And far from being alone. Coca-Cola came under fire from critics in 2015 in Australia when it launched Coca Life, a supposedly light variant of sugar packaged in a bright green can. Of course, this made consumers feel like they were making a health-conscious purchase decision, but this was despite the fact that “reducing to 10 teaspoons of sugar in a 600 ml bottle made little difference in terms of health impact.” Recently, the company launched its campaign, which, in its essence, forced consumers to simply recycle more, instead of actually adapting the way the company runs its business.

In 2013, because of the flattering self-framing of how he takes care of his animals and their relative well-being, and not two years earlier because of the constant beating and beating of pigs. And who can forget Volkswagen ,?

Why Greenwashing works so well

So why do companies insist on green washing their business instead of reforming themselves? Because it is far more cost-effective to simply adjust public perception than to make meaningful reforms. found that 66 percent of respondents would be willing to pay a premium for “environmentally sustainable products,” and among those willing to pay more than 50 percent were influenced by sustainability factors such as an environmentally friendly company (58 percent) and a company be known for their commitment to social value (56 percent) ”

This is also because we, collectively, are constantly falling for it. The desire of consumers to help solve the climate crisis, especially faced with the barely lukewarm responses of world governments, forces us to view virtually every action in this regard as positive. “SDGs [] and ‘net zero’ have in a way created an opportunity for much more green laundry, as it allows you to describe yourself as a green company when you’re doing something that’s basically not green, ”Dave Powell, co-presenter podcast and former head of the environmental department at the New Economics Foundation, he said . “You effectively buy your way out of trouble, for example,.”

“As part of their climate strategies, many companies rely on voluntary carbon offsets. However, if not done well, compensation can lead to greenwashing.” Aoife Brophy Haney, research lecturer at the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment at the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment. The University of Oxford added: “To mitigate this risk, the government and society as a whole should support the use of best practice guidelines, as recently published”, to ensure that compensation is done in a rigorous and credible way that ultimately contributes zero goals. “

And, most importantly, companies continue to do green laundry because there are very few downsides to it, at least from a regulatory perspective. In the US, though, the FTC reserves the right to.

However, cracks in the façade of green laundry may begin to emerge, starting with the financial sector, as regulators ’interest in (environmental, social and administrative) oversight grows. As reported on Monday by German asset manager DWS by U.S. and German regulatory agencies after a former employee accused the company of falsifying environmental credentials in its 2020 annual report.

“You have to be careful, because there is a great risk to reputation,” said an unnamed senior executive director in European asset management. FN London. “We’re not saying we fucked up before, but now it’s recognized that it’s getting more complicated.”

“Most were probably too violent in advertising their alleged ESG expertise and are now exercising more caution,” added Philip Kalus, executive partner at Accelerando Associates. “Some would even say that there is panic in the house. Nobody wants to be the next accused, but it is an important and belated wake-up call for the industry. ”

This is not to say that the environmental promises made by Apple, Google, Microsoft or Amazon are aimed at deliberately obscuring the public (although Exxon, Shell and Chevron have absolutely done so). These companies have a great financial interest in making their customers look as positive as possible because, honestly, no one will have time to talk about the great new features of the Pixel 8 or iOS 15 when we are in the midst of global climate melting-slash-.

Will Google’s “moon goal” to make its data centers and campuses fully carbon-efficient by 2030 make more than a difference when it comes to mitigating the effects of climate change? Probably not, definitely not on its own and certainly nothing more than Microsoft’s promise to reduce water use in its data centers by 95 percent by 2024 or Apple’s plan to build robots. But these claims do not in themselves constitute a green wash. Their changes may not be enough to make a noticeable impact at this point, but these goodwill efforts are trying to do something, anything, to prevent what could be the self-imposed extinction of humanity. And given that a coal-loving senator from West Virginia has ruined America’s latest effort to invest in environmentally responsible energy technologies, these types of corporate initiatives could be the best we’ll see soon.

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Naveen Kumar

Friendly communicator. Music maven. Explorer. Pop culture trailblazer. Social media practitioner.

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