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Greenwashing? What Does This Have to do With Climate Change?

No, this is not an article about the local laundromat, or special detergents that will perform magic on ones soiled items. This is about an attempt by some companies spending millions of dollars in advertising, to project a “clean” and responsible image.

This takes various forms. It is done in an effort to promote technologies that either don’t exist yet, or are unproven, or are decades away from possible widespread use. Or, another approach is to suggest that they are recycling materials to minimize waste. The idea seems to be to convince people, and enough policymakers, that we can continue on with business as usual and that there are solutions to address environmental concerns. Then we can continue to consume and burn fossil fuels, and oh yes, continue to buy their product[s]. 

The ad, “Real Sustainability Answers Before It’s Asked” is one of many that have been created by Aramco. Aramco is the state-owned Saudi Arabian oil and gas giant and is the world’s largest corporate greenhouse gas emitter. The company has no plans to reduce oil and gas production by 2030 but its ads imply it is a model global citizen in reducing its carbon footprint. This ad [go on-line to get all of the text, along with other examples] talks about its very low carbon intensity and that it produces “more oil” but uses less energy to do so.

These ads have been published at great cost in numerous newspapers, on TV and in journals. Other ads discuss how they are capturing gas from their production platforms. What is ignored is that this ”saved” gas is then pumped underground to produce, yes, … more oil.

Let’s take a step back as to why this “Greenwashing” is even needed. There are two primary reasons. First, is that the fossil fuel industry is aware that the consumption of oil, gas and coal has almost doubled the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere in the last 100 years or so. This huge increase in concentration of this greenhouse gas [GHG] and others such as methane, has warmed our planet by two degrees Fahrenheit, and caused a large increase in extreme weather events with enormous costs to individuals and our economy.

And, according to the results of the recent UN meeting in Glasgow in Nov. 2021, we are track to reach a 4.5 degrees F increase before the end of the century.

Another reason for a company to engage in “Greenwashing” is that their product container consists largely of chemicals derived from fossil fuels and then, once the contents are consumed, the container winds up littering our landscape or oceans; i.e. plastic bottles.

According to report issued on December 1, 2021, by the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine, fossil fuel subsidies have kept the cost of plastic components so low that companies can make more money making virgin plastics than recycled plastics.
Here is one Greenwashing advert from Windex. [Note: There is no intent to pick on this single company; they are just one of many making confusing and/or misleading statements.] 

In reading this advert, it is not unreasonable to assume that the products’ plastic bottles were recovered from the ocean and recycled. Not so … According to Eco-Business 2020, no plastic bottles were retrieved from the ocean to make this product. They are all collected from land in Haiti, Indonesia and the Philippines.

Perhaps the American public is beginning to wake up to the impacts of climate change and the need to address this issue.

40% of Americans live in counties in the United States that experienced climate disasters in 2021 [Washington Post 1/5/22]. These include fires, floods, extreme rainfall events, droughts and so on. Just consider the Dec. 30 fire near Boulder, CO that was fanned by 100+ mph winds and burned about 1,000 homes and businesses in one day. This was followed by 10 inches of snow the very next day. This fire burned so hot and so fast it was able to jump a six-lane highway to continue on its destructive path.

Then we have the tornados that struck Kentucky and five other states on December 10 th , 2021 that killed at least 80 people, and one of which carved a path on the ground for over 260 miles. According to Dr. James Elsner, a professor at Florida State University, he has “found that tornado power, estimated using damage path characteristics, increased at a rate of 5% per year from 1994 to 2016” [NYTimes 12/19/21].

And then we have the island community of Kodiak, Alaska which recorded a temperature of 67 degrees F on Dec. 26, 2021. This is the highest temperature ever measured in Alaska on that date. Rick Thoman, a scientist at the Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy, called it “absurd.”

The frequency of these extreme weather events is not normal and reflects the additional energy we have placed in our climate system through our consumption of fossil fuels.

But there is pushback from a variety of environmental organizations in an attempt to inform the public about these deceptive Greenwashing practices. The image, by Michael Fornton/Flickr, “Greenwashing Won’t Wash” was highlighted in a protest march during Covid-19. There are many websites on-line that addresses these deceptive practices.

According to Robin Hicks of eco-business.com, in 2020, “this year, perhaps more than any other in the history of advertising, companies have tried to sell to the world how much they care about people and planet.”

Then we have a billboard in Glasgow, September 2021, that states “Barclays, Banking On Our Future Extinction.” It criticizes the big bank, Barclays, for its investments in fossil fuel companies and funding businesses that destroy rainforests to grow palm oil, soya and beef. Photo from The Drum, Ellen Ormesher, September 23, 2021.

This was part of a guerilla billboard campaign ahead of the UN meeting, COP26.

And then we have the cartoon by Wilcox which nicely summarizes the whole issue of Greenwashing.


The scientific career of Raymond N. Johnson, Ph.D., spanned 30 years in research and development as an organic/analytical chemist. He is currently founder and director of the Institute of Climate Studies USA (www.ICSUSA.org). Climate Science is published monthly.