Why Greenwashing and Posturing Won’t Fix Climate Change

Climate change is one of the most pressing issues of our time. It is an urgent problem that requires immediate action. However, many companies and governments have been accused of greenwashing and posturing, which means that they are making false or misleading claims about their environmental credentials or making only token efforts to address the problem. While these efforts may look good on paper, they are unlikely to have any meaningful impact on the climate crisis. In this article, we will explore why greenwashing and posturing won’t fix climate change.

Who is doing the greenwashing?

Ironically, some of the biggest culprits for making false green claims can be those businesses most involved in damaging the climate.

Despite a big hoo-ha about BP’s greenwashing in early 2022, only last month, Carolyn Fortuna, writing for Cleantechnica, said “The green investments about which BP brags represent only a minor portion of its current energy production and investment behavior. The rest continues to be targeted for its big profit oil and gas holdings.”  Little seems to have changed, at least in perception and appearing to be green whilst doing little will not wash from a company that has just announced record profits while damaging the planet – in a year where the households they supply are struggling hard in a cost of living crisis.

However, BP is a long way from being the only culprit.  From finance companies and insurers claiming to be green but still supporting fossil fuel projects, to hotel chains claiming sustainability while hiding policies that are anything but, to advertisers showing nature, green fields and happy, fluffy animals while simultaneously engaging in deforestation, ‘green’, or at least the illusion of it, seems to be good for business.  And that is an issue.

Why is greenwashing harmful?

Firstly, greenwashing and posturing can mislead the public into thinking that companies and governments are taking significant action to address climate change when, in fact, they are doing very little. This can lead to a false sense of security and complacency, which can ultimately delay real action on the problem. By portraying themselves as environmentally responsible, companies and governments can avoid criticism and scrutiny, while continuing to engage in harmful practices.

Secondly, greenwashing and posturing often involve making only superficial changes, such as switching to renewable energy or using recyclable materials, without addressing the root causes of the problem. For example, a company might claim to be reducing its carbon footprint by switching to wind energy, but this does not address the fact that the company is still producing and selling products that contribute to climate change. This approach is known as “greening without de-growth,” and it fails to recognize that the only real solution to climate change is to fundamentally change the way we live and work.

Thirdly, greenwashing and posturing can distract from the urgent need for systemic change. Climate change is not just a problem of individual behavior or corporate responsibility; it is a systemic issue that requires fundamental changes to the way our society and economy operate. Greenwashing and posturing can create the illusion that small changes can solve a problem that requires much more radical transformation.

Finally, greenwashing and posturing can undermine genuine efforts to address climate change. When companies and governments make false or misleading claims about their environmental credentials, it can erode public trust in the need for action on climate change. This can make it more difficult for genuine efforts to gain traction and can ultimately delay progress on the issue.

In conclusion, greenwashing and posturing are unlikely to have any meaningful impact on the climate crisis. They can mislead the public, distract from the need for systemic change, and undermine genuine efforts to address the problem. To effectively tackle climate change, we need a fundamental shift in the way our society and economy operates. This requires genuine action, not just superficial gestures.

We need to hold companies and governments accountable for their actions and demand real, systemic change that addresses the root causes of the problem. Only then can we hope to create a sustainable future for ourselves and future generations – or we cannot, with any sense of integrity, ask consumers to adopt more sustainable behaviours.