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Climate Activist's

Guide to Earth Day

How to tell the difference between
genuine commitments and
corporate greenwashing

What is greenwashing?

Greenwashing refers to when companies and other organizations attempt to cultivate a ‘climate friendly’ or environmentally responsible public image, without taking meaningful strides toward climate action.

 

Greenwashing and Earth Day

Beginning in 1970, Earth Day was conceived in response to a massive oil spill in Santa Barbara, California, to galvanize collective action for environmental protection.

Having one day to mark an important issue is useful – it creates opportunities for advocates to gather support, for media to amplify coverage of the climate crisis, and for people to reflect on issues that they may not usually have the time or space to.

But along with meaningful climate action, Earth Day has also become rife with corporate greenwashing. Let’s take a look at how to spot it.

 

climate committments without follow-through

Many companies and organizations use high-visibility days like Earth Day to make announcements, like setting net-zero or sustainability targets, new funds for climate action, etc. But sometimes, these announcements come with no clear pathway to how they will achieve these goals.

Questions to ask:
  • Is there a publicly visible plan for implementation?
  • Are there short-term and long-term checkpoints?
  • Are the climate pledges accompanied by sufficient funding to achieve them?
  • Do the pledges have plans for direct emissions reductions, or do they rely on offsets to meet their goals?
  • Is there a person or department accountable to achieving these goals?

 

Tokenization of grassroots activists

Earth Day can be a valuable opportunity for activists to have their work amplified across diverse platforms to reach wide audiences. However, it is a reality that companies derive significant social capital from proximity to social movements, and it may not always be a fair exchange.

Questions to ask:
  • Are companies compensating activists for their time doing interviews, social media takeovers, or sharing written pieces?
  • Are companies doing something more than profiling leaders? Are people being given real funding and resources for their projects?
  • Are companies telling the stories of environmental leaders with their consent, and passing the mic whenever possible?

 

launching new ‘green’ products

Many corporations see Earth Day as a prime opportunity to launch or increase visibility around a new ‘green’ product or initiative, from sustainable fashion lines to new skincare lines to products made from recycled materials.

Unfortunately, sometimes these ‘green’ products make up a tiny percentage of the company’s overall production cycle.

Questions to ask:
  • What percentage of the company’s overall product line or output do these ‘green’ products take up?
  • Does the sustainable product appropriately replace an unsustainable product, or is it just additional?
  • Has the company committed to full supply chain transparency for all their products?

 

Spotting genuine corporate action

It can be difficult to separate fact from fiction when it comes to Earth Day committments, but recognizing organizations that are walking the walk can help put pressure on those that need to go further. Here are some signs that suggest meaningful corporate action on climate:

  • They have made measurable progress towards emissions reductions, and have a plan to address their Scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions
  • They have already or are committed to winding down unsustainable practices or removing unsustainable products off the market
  • They are open and transparent about where they need to improve, and make their climate pledges publicly visible
  • They are supportive of policies and legislation that aim to address emissions and enforce environmental standards

 

Further reading

Check out the new Corporate Climate Responsibility Monitor: newclimate.org

See how your favourite fashion brands stand up to scrutiny on their climate policies: fashion.stand.earth

Sources

https://www.businessnewsdaily.com/10946-greenwashing.html

https://atmos.earth/brown-girl-green-eco-influencer-greenwashing

https://www.fastcompany.com/90696664/corporate-climate-commitments-dont-mean-anything-without-accountability

https://npengage.com/companies/dont-just-celebrate-advocate-getting-back-down-to-the-roots-of-earth-day-tips-for-csr-professionals

https://acespace.org/2018/10/15/equity-in-a-time-of-socio-environmental-justice

https://enveurope.springeropen.com/articles/10.1186/s12302-020-0300-3

 

 


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