29/8 – The Global Greenwashing Heist

When promoting greenwashing, corporations and their marketing departments (selling things) as well as their public relations departments (selling the ideology that capitalism is great and what you buy is good) essentially convey false messages. These posts pretend that a corporation or their products are greener, more environmentally friendly, and more sustainable than they actually are.

Greenwashing targets the environmentally conscious middle-class consumers. The marketing gimmick of greenwashing aims to make people in this social class feel good by insinuating that what they buy is good for the environment, sustainable, and, at least not too damaging.

Simultaneously, by pretending to be more environmentally friendly than corporations and their products, it encourages the following beliefs: “to do the right thing”, “every bit helps”, and to “help the environment”.

Greenwashing pretends to be green when it is in fact – not. It is a marketing trick – a con. It puts a good spin on what corporations do wrong. And worse, greenwashing seems to work, at least partially.

Many corporations have long found that they need to do two things – beyond just making profits. They need to sell things and they need to present capitalism in a good light.

The inextricable link between the media and capitalism creates media capitalism pushing a capitalism-sustaining ideology that needs to be, almost inevitably, flanked by mass deception.

In media capitalism, mass deception is the task of the media. It has to present the corporation as well as corporate capitalism in a positive light. And it also needs to protect corporation so that people do not become too much aware of the pathology created by corporate capitalism. The camouflaging of this pathology works under the following formula:

  1. there is a growth in democracy;
  2. there is a growth in undemocratic corporate power; and
  3. there needs to be a growth in corporate propaganda as a means to protect corporate power against democracy.

Apart from global environmental destruction, one of the most serious pathologies created by corporate capitalism is that of monopolies. To disguise the fact that capitalism produces monopolies, we are fed with a daily dose of free market and competition is good ideologies.

Yet, just ten brands own most of today’s consumer packaged goods, and only six companies control the media. Although we might think we have a choice when it comes to spending our money, that choice is an illusion, says John Pabon in The Great Greenwashing. It is because of facts like these that the consumer choice ideology remains one of the most essential ideologies that sustains corporate capitalism.

One of the world’s most environmentally destructive corporations – Chevron – got in early on the game of greenwashing. Chevron’s greenwashing started in the 1980s with its “People do” marketing campaign while, simultaneously, violating the US Clean Air and Clean Water Acts.

Getting in also on the greenwashing act is – no surprise here – Walmart that had to pay the laughable sum of $1 million for misleading consumers about its environmentally friendly products. In 2022, Walmart made a cool $143bn profits – $143,000,000,000. In other words, Walmart paid a microscopically small fine when set against their stratospheric profits. The corporation was shaken to the core.

Often such deceptive marketing comes with unsubstantiated claims – done in the correct assumption that most consumers will not check – like 50% less polluting, 20% more sustainable; 99% recycled, etc. One of the most illuminating examples comes from a carpet making company.

A rug is labeled 50% more recycled content than before. The manufacturer increased the recycled content from 2% to 3%. Although, technically true, the message conveys the false impression that the rug contains a significant amount of recycled fiber.

Even worse is the fact that we have oil companies positioning themselves as environmental activists. And it’s even more hideous form comes through astroturfing. Much of this is designed to divert attention away from corporate pathologies. It runs under the motto, look over here, not over there!

Linked to this is the next PR trick, only to talk about the positive aspects of a product or service. All the nasty stuff is quietly swept under the rug. This can be turbo-charged by sticking one’s own Eco-label onto products. Currently, there are 455 eco-labels in 199 countries across 25 industries – the fox is guarding the henhouse.

Best of all is when corporations create their own eco-label or have a faked organization doing it for them. It is a bit like issuing your own driver’s license for yourself or have your neighbor do it for you. What can possibly go wrong?

The key idea behind corporate eco-labels – not proper eco-labels like Demeter, for example – is that certification enables destructive businesses to continue operating as usual.

Perhaps the crowning achievement of greenwashing and environmental vandalism is shown by ExxonMobil corporation. For decades, the oil giant invests squillions into denying links between fossil fuels and climate change. ExxonMobil is only outdone by the tobacco industry with its 100 million tobacco-related deaths during the 20th century. Neither Hitler nor Stalin could match what tobacco corporations did.

Beyond all this, tobacco was also running one of the most successful and lethal PR campaigns ever. It was designed to hide the true danger of their products – for decades. And it was successful. Perhaps tobacco corporations are the true masterminds of deceptive marketing and corporate public relations as shown in the classic film, Thank You for Smoking!.

In both cases – oil and tobaccopeople were busy focusing on the positive things they say they are doing, while corporations are busy plundering, polluting, and profiteering just out of sight.

While The Great Greenwashing argues that killing off your consumers is a pretty shaky business model, the aforementioned tobacco industry has shown otherwise – mountains of profits came with mountains of dead bodies.

Virtually the same thing is demonstrated in the master case of profits-vs-people as found in many management and business ethics textbooks. In one of the most infamous cases of profits-over-people – Ford’s Pinto – it has showed that killing people can be profitable – very profitable, indeed. It is a phenomenon known as necro-capitalism.

To smokescreen such corporate pathologies, management gurus, highly-paid business school professors, and the corporate apparatchiks of managerialism have invented a few handy ideologies such as, for example, the ultimate contradiction in terms: business ethics.

Their ideological endeavors are flanked by a true favorite of business schools and the pro-business press, the PR-Superstar of corporate social responsibility (CSR). This is spiced up by the ideology of corporate citizenship and corporate sustainability.

It is almost self-evident that a corporation like the tobacco giant Reynolds America claims, we have been 100% wind-powered since 2008 – diverting attention away from their cancer causing tobacco products while showing off their sustainability credentials.

All this hits the right spot as 81% of consumers say, it’s extremely or very important for companies to implement programs to improve the environment. As a consequence, virtually all corporations have a glossy corporate social responsibility report – even Enron had a 64-page long Code of Ethics.

Common to Enron and other corporations is the belief that corporate social responsibility has three pillars: the economy (read: corporate profits); the society (handouts to the poor is good PR); and the environment (greenwashing is good marketing).

Yet, CSR has never prevented corporations like Walmart and Amazon from paying slave wages. On the contrary. CSR and business ethics camouflage slave wages, environmental vandalism, and other corporate pathologies.

Meanwhile, greenwashing corporations also like to large-scale charity drives. Coping far better than workers, Unilever paid $772,000 as a bonus to its corporate boss for setting up a Sustainable Living Plan – his ¾ of a million bonus came on top of an already eye-wateringly high $1.4 million payout.

Meanwhile, toxic-forever-chemicals’ producer Dupont appointed a so-called Chief Sustainability Officer – how lovely. Many of these corporate bosses are listed on a ranking of the Top 100 Sustainability Leaders. Among them is cancer-causing Roundup producer Bayer. Just as Bea Perez from the world’s biggest plastic polluter, Coca-Cola.

Still topping all this is the extreme wastefulness of fast fashion – the poster child of greenwashing – where the high price of glamour meets global environmental destruction while causing 10% of all global emissions. Compare this to the 17% of global emissions from agriculture. It is something entirely different that tops much of this.

Yet, the true top-notcher of all this has been reached by the global good-doing elite. A traveling circus hopping – in their private jets, of course – from COP27ff meetings to the Davos’ get-togethers and beyond while selling the greenwashing ideology of sustainable capitalism. When not selling their ideological wares, they are busy with scuba diving, golfing, and shopping. Living in five-star hotels, enjoying luxurious spas, and dining at world-class restaurants.

Simultaneously, Coca-Cola, one of the world’s biggest plastic polluter, was a key sponsor of the Cop27 conference. No wonder Greta Thunberg called it the ‘blah blah blah’ conference.

Cop27 was – most likely – the world’s greatest greenwashing event, next to Davos, of course where the sheer number of private jets of the global good-doing elites frequently caused parking problems.

Even the 2022 Qatar was in on the greenwashing game. It had to. Qatar was, after all, the single most polluting event (aside from war) ever put on by human beings. Not to be beaten by that, Davos seeks to measure up.

Davos is the place where people meet who make more money in an hour than others make in a year. They are not out of touch, of course not! Instead, they pretend to save the world while greenwashing their corporations and capitalism. Of course, when greenwashing is in demand, the usual suspects are there: mining corporations like BHP and Rio Tinto which, accidentally, of course, blew up an Aboriginal heritage site.

Not to be missing out is scandal-prone Adani ready to get involved in the greatest corporate con in history while being good buddies with greenwashing politicians.

To façade (literally) its very own corporation’s destructiveness when it comes to global warming, Adani boss proudly announced the funding for the new Adani Green Energy Gallery at the British Museum.

Meanwhile, the British Museum also hosts other greenwashing corporations like BP as seen in the Mark Wahlberg movie, as well as Shell made infamous through the Brent Spar scandal. In the end, and after all that, one might close with the words of John Pabon:

“While greenwashing is most visible in the private sector, examples from public sector institutions are just as egregious. They convene conferences, ad nauseum, with lots of fanfare but little accountability. They roadshow all their futuristic projects to deflect from projects stuck in the Stone Age. They put their hands out for greedy corporations with dirty money. Then, they dare to take a moral high ground and position themselves as modern-day messiahs.”

While greenwashing moves on, spaceship earth travels towards the uninhabitable earth. Just as UN’s Guterres recently said:

“we are on a highway to climate hell with our foot still on the accelerator.”

On that highway, greenwashing remains a vital component as it disguises the pathologies of corporations and secures continuous corporate profits until a New Yorker cartoon will become a reality. Its captions read:

“Yes, the planet got destroyed.
But for a beautiful moment in time
we created a lot of values for shareholders”.

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