Shades of green in a grid

Choose your shade: enter our greenwash special coverage

Image credit: E&T

Are things really as green as they appear – or are we being greenwashed?

Welcome to our greenest ever issue. You can tell because this month we talk more about environmental issues than we’ve ever done before. We use buzzwords like climate change, sustainable, net zero and kinder to the planet. We’ve got lots of headlines in green too, pictures of the national treasure that’s David Attenborough, some police carting off Greta Thunberg, and lots of lovely trees in an architect’s vision of a utopian sustainable future. And just look at all that green on our cover! It all goes to show just how amazingly green we are.

Whether it’s a brochure to sell another product, an annual report to reassure investors, or PR to show a caring side, words and pictures come quite easy. It’s the backing it up with action that’s the harder part. Organisations want it known that they’re responding to climate change more seriously with targets, audits and strategies. And I don’t doubt the intent is usually genuine.

Yet the greenwash may not always be a consciously cynical ploy. In a world of green lifestyle mantras and sustainable assumptions, it’s easy to lose the rigour and questioning that keeps companies on the right track. If your customers are content with the product and the shareholders accept your reporting, then why worry?

Complacency comes with oversimplification and surface acceptance. This is what consumers think they know: recycle good/incineration bad, glass good/plastic bad, biomass good/fossil fuel bad. These kinds of comparisons are useful rules of thumb but are they always true? What if that electric car means scrapping a perfectly useable petrol car? How much more energy does it take to collect that glass bottle and turn it into a new one? What if the biomass is wood pellets from a forest on the other side of the Atlantic? These are the kind of issues you’ve seen in E&T and we’ll come back to in our November net-zero issue to coincide with the IET’s major new event in Glasgow.      

Simple lifestyle rules make greenwashing easier. It’s recyclable – tick. It’s sustainable – tick. It’s organic – tick. Must be all right then! We need to get beyond the folksy-looking freeform type and earthy colours on the packaging. We have to dig deeper into the numbers. And keep an open mind.

Chris Edwards examines the carbon emissions reported by governments and asks what they hide. Conor McGlone hears the regulators and analysts starting to call out the plastics producers for employing greenwashing methods. Len Williams asks if worldwide sporting events can ever really be sustainable. And Alex Joseph questions the environmental claims of just one sector with a new technology to sell – air taxis. On a more positive note, Hilary Lamb offers some hope for the future of climate action.

The truth isn’t always black and white, goes the cliché, there’s a million shades of grey. Greenwash comes in many hues too. That’s why there are 35 paint samples on the cover, all of which come with good coverage and high opacity (for a limited time).

Greenwash soap powder mockup


Image credit: E&T

6 ways to Greenwash

Greenlight: Spotlight one green thing you do, however small, to draw attention from your, ahem, other activities.    

Greenshift: Blame the consumer. It’s not your fault, it’s theirs. Ask them what they will do about it?    

Greencrowd: There’s safety in numbers. You can move at the pace of the slowest.    

Greenlabel: Just choose your green label and hope no one looks too closely. There are 200 environmental label schemes in the EU alone.    

Greenrinse: Not achieving your ESG targets? Quick – change them!    

Greenhush: Hide or under-report what your company is doing to evade investor scrutiny.    

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