Kate Fraser - Teen Aspect - July 7th, 2022
The fashion brand Zara very recently released a party dress collection made from recycled greenhouse gases, and I could not help but laugh.
Zara, one of the many brands known for their involvement in fast fashion, is working with LanzaTech to produce these dresses that contain a polyester fabric sourced from carbon emissions. (i) While this may seem like a step forward in terms of decarbonization, it takes away from the necessary conversation around Zara and its long-running history of environmental degradation. From textile waste that fills our landfills, extreme water usage, and emissions from shipping, Zara and a multitude of other fast fashion brands are simply not sustainable, and their occasional brand releases that seem to offer solutions to their harmful means of production will never be enough to actually counter their impacts.
This phenomenon, known as greenwashing, goes beyond the fashion industry. With increasingly concerning reports on climate change, corporations have begun to face pressure from concerned scientists and activists who have been sounding the alarm.
And pressure does not always produce diamonds.
The resulting brand missions that have come from public backlash have been consistently underwhelming. They simply are not enough. Corporations will continue to prioritize maximal profit and brand expansion at the cost of a worsening environment.
So, who are the major culprits of greenwashing?
Coca-Cola has earned the grand title of the largest generator of plastic waste in the world, coming in at 2.9 million tons a year. (ii) Yet, this has been poorly coupled with their PlantBottle, released in 2009. The company claims that the bottle is “eco-friendly,” yet it relies on the faulty assumption that every market has the sustainable materials used to make the bottle. The government of Denmark has called out Coca-Cola for this textbook form of greenwashing, all of which has been summed up by the company’s advertisement for the PlantBottle: a plastic Coke bottle wrapped in green leaves.
Nestle is another company notorious for its plastic waste. In 2018, Nestle CEO Mark Schneider came out with a PR release around sustainability and the company’s commitment to reusable or recyclable packaging. The Greenpeace organization immediately labeled these empty words as greenwashing, saying the commitments were too vague, lacked numerical guidelines, and made it too collective. (iii) Other groups followed up on false advertising from Nestle, using the Canadian
Code of Advertising Standards to challenge the company’s claim that they have the “most environmentally responsible consumer product in the world.”(iv)
And the wrap up the big three, McDonald’s has also faced the fire in the fight against greenwashing. The company announced that they would cut greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2050 just last year. Yet, according to climate activists, these were just more corporate false promises. Per Jennifer Molidor, net zero is an accounting trick rather than a climate solution, citing
McDonald’s overwhelming beef footprint.(v) In fact, the chain would have to change its entire menu to actually meet its net zero goals. (vi)
Now, these are only three of some of the largest offenders of greenwashing in the food and beverage industry alone. Greenwashing exists in makeup, technology, energy, fashion, etc.
And while it is easy to call out some wrongdoers, there are some companies who are operating under well-rounded and -researched plans that incorporate sustainability.
I recently flew with JetBlue, and while tracking my flight from Fort Lauderdale to Boston on the screen, I noticed a pledge alongside the map that said JetBlue offsets the carbon emissions for every domestic flight. I was suspicious of such a claim, as a single hour of flight alone produces ¼ tons of carbon. (vii) Yet, the airline has actually reported achieving carbon neutrality, being the first US airline to do so via forest conservation and gas capture. (viii)
Klean Kanteen is another company that has set a great example for others to follow. The brand sells reusable products, tracks and offsets emissions, and limits energy consumption. (ix) They also release an annual report concerning their environmental impacts that is available for anyone to read, proving that they are actually committed to sustainability.
There are hundreds of other companies that strive for meaningful environmental action, going out of their way to avoid the harmful yet common practice of greenwashing. They prove to all companies that sustainability is in fact attainable and accessible, despite misconceptions around funding.
Greenwashing reflects the practice of our very own governments that put forth environmental legislation that is far from enough when considering our current position within the worsening climate crisis. It is inherently harmful, and it takes away from the necessary sacrifices we need to make to protect ourselves and the ecosystems around us.
i Wadhwa, M. (2022, June 21). Fashion brand Zara's Party Dress Collection made from recycled greenhouse gas. ABP Live. Retrieved June 22, 2022, from https://news.abplive.com/lifestyle/fashion-brand-zara-s-party-dress-collection-made-fromrecycled-greenhouse-gas-1538362
ii Changing Markets Foundation. (2020, September 17). Talking trash final - changing markets. ChangingMarkets.org. Retrieved June 22, 2022, from http://changingmarkets.org/wpcontent/uploads/2020/09/Talking-Trash-FINAL.pdf
iii Bernardo, S. (2022, July 22). What is Greenwashing? A Nestlé Case Study. measurepnw.com. Retrieved June 23, 2022, from https://measurepnw.com/blog/what-is-greenwashing-anestl%C3%A9-case-study
iv Hills, S. (2008, December 2). Nestle accused of Greenwashing Water. foodnavigator.com. Retrieved June 23, 2022, from https://www.foodnavigatorusa.com/Article/2008/12/02/Nestle-accused-of-greenwashing-water
v McGuire, J. (2021, October 13). McDonald's rebuked for greenwashing climate pledge. EcoWatch.com. Retrieved June 23, 2022, from https://www.ecowatch.com/mcdonaldsgreenwashing-2655223811.html
vi John, S. (2021, October 8). McDonald's would need to change its entire menu to meet new goal, experts say. eatthis.com. Retrieved June 23, 2022, from https://www.eatthis.com/news-mcdonalds-would-need-to-change-entire-menu-to-meetclimate-goals/
vii Carbon Independent. (n.d.). Aviation. CarbonIndependent.Org. Retrieved June 24, 2022, from https://www.carbonindependent.org/22.html
viii Danigelis, A. (2020, August 13). JetBlue achieves carbon neutrality for domestic us flights. EnvironmentalLeader.com. Retrieved June 24, 2022, from https://www.environmentalleader.com/2020/08/jetblue-achieves-carbon-neutrality-us/
ix Klean Kanteen. (n.d.). Planet. Klean Kanteen. Retrieved June 24, 2022, from https://www.kleankanteen.com/pages/planet