Greenwashing – Paint it Green

In my hometown there is an old company which is somehow still working. The company has a wall which separates the factory grounds from the street and which turned out to be quite suitable for street art. As the number of factory workers went down and the labour rights of those still working decreased, the company owner decided to paint that wall in bright colors. The practice for the people to leave their creative messages on the wall still remains. But what also remains is the practice of painting the wall into brighter and more cheerful colures after each new graffiti and each new layoff, although everything else is falling apart. This absurd case got me thinking if it is enough to just paint it all into lively colors and pretend everything is alright, while expecting the problems to disappear on their own.

With the rise of awareness and care for the environment, it has become popular for companies and sometimes even entire countries to, just like this company is painting its walls into bright colors, paint their image into something reminiscent of green and sustainability. Greenwashing – a term which has become commonly used in the situations where eco-friendly aspects of a product, politics or companies’ goal are pointed out through marketing manipulations. In practice it looks like this: the companies spend far more resources on appearing green than actually making their business sustainable.

¨Green is the new red¨ is a saying gaining popularity. This title has been well accepted by the big companies, so the focus on social responsibility is being increasingly shift towards nature, all with the aim of increasing profit. The examples of greenwashing can be seen everywhere, starting from the attempts to make the users see a product as eco-friendly by changing the visual identity of that product. Forest and flowery designs can so often be found on the packages of very harmful chemical products. McDonalds had a Europe campaign in 2009 when they changed the logo from yellow-red to yellow-green, without changing anything in their politics and the way the company works. In Serbia there are also ˝green¨ petrol stations which have no proof of sustainability nor any other sign of being different from the remaining stations apart from that ¨green¨ label which merely serves to decoy the users.

As usual, Coca Cola set high standards when it comes to ¨green¨ marketing. It recently became possible in some countries to buy Coke in green package, the only actual difference being a little less sugar and calories. Bottles made of eco materials are also a part of eco campaign, but as it turns out, the company has no proof to support their claim that the bottles don’t affect the environment and reduce carbon footprint.  Another seemingly useful campaign conducted by Coca Cola and some ecological organisations was the restoration of wetlands and flooded areas along Danube as well as preservation of freshwater resources. Maybe this campaign would seem appealing if we didn’t know the ways this type of production excessively exploits drinking water springs which were until yesterday public good and property of all citizens. A more striking example comes from India, where fizzy beverages factories excessively used drinking water sources, thus leading the local residents to the brink of starvation since there is  insufficient water to irrigate the crops. And then some other ¨experts¨ recommended to the same residents to solve their problem by acquiring Monsanto GMO seeds which demands less water.

By seeing what lies behind brightly painted walls and by merely busting greenwashing myths, we can make the first step towards a more sustainable society which is in accordance with the nature.

/Predrag Momcilovic

Project manager at Serbian Green Youth, research associate at Belgrade University, Serbia

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