Explainer: What is 'greenwashing'?

''To the companies that are greenwashing’ / ''Ein Greenwashing zu betreiben'’ / ''We are calling out greenwashing today’’ / ''It's exactly that sort of greenwashing narrative’’ / "They're showing us a pretty image with 'greenwashing'

G is for greenwashing.

Climate activists have accused some oil companies, big retail brands, banks, and even countries of doing it.

But what exactly does it mean?

The number of environmental claims made by various companies and organizations is rising...as consumers are increasingly demanding more sustainable goods, and companies find themselves under pressure to hit their Environmental, Social, and Governance - ESG - targets/

But when those claims are perceived as exaggerated or not genuine, they might be accused of ‘greenwashing’, i.e. painting something green to APPEAR more environmentally friendly. (EU parliament paint shot)

Think of an apparel maker that uses recycled fabrics but has coal-powered factories, or oil companies claiming to be renewable energy leaders, and cooking oil made with genetically modified organisms but branded as "natural."

"Eco", "green", and "natural" are common phrases of greenwashing.

They are used broadly and there is no scientific standard to meet, even though some regulators have tried to set limits.

Activists say ‘greenwashing’ is a major problem in the face of climate change…and it’s likely to be a hot topic at the upcoming COP26 summit.

''They have been drowning us in promises and not delivering.’’

"You are not sticking to the Paris agreement, no matter how much you greenwash it."

A review of websites by global consumer authorities found four in 10 promoting products and services in a way that could be misleading. That's according to Britain's Competition and Markets Authority.

In October, Greenpeace published a study of social media ads by energy companies Shell, TotalEnergies, Preem, Eni, Repsol and Fortum.

The environmental group classified 63% of the ads as greenwashing, given that the companies remain among the largest emitters of greenhouse gases.

In responses, Shell, TotalEnergies, and Eni rejected the "greenwashing" label or said they felt justified in profiling their green credentials. All three companies have plans to achieve net zero emissions by 2050.

Some of the greenwashing claims are facing challenges with regulators, courts and by the public.

When greenwashing undermines confidence in consumer goods, companies and governments, it becomes more difficult to convince people that their actions matter.

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