It’s Awards Season! Ranking the Worst Greenwashing Culprits
Corporate greenwashers deserve their night of recognition too.
To commemorate last night’s 2023 Academy Awards Ceremony, the team at Greenwashed has decided that it’s high time we give out our own set of awards. Just like the Oscars, these awards are bestowed by category in recognition of standout skills. 🏆
The difference is that instead of being awarded for excellence in film, these awards are given to the company responsible for the worst case of greenwashing in their respective industry, giving a darker meaning to the iconic "Do whatever it takes!" mantra inscribed on an Oscar.
Quick reminder: The definition of “greenwashing” is to use deceptive techniques in marketing or advertising to disguise harmful climate practices.
Let’s dive in. ⬇️
Honorable Mention: Shein
No other category has an honorable mention, but it didn’t feel right to leave Shein off of this list. The Chinese fast-fashion company is the largest online-only retailer in the world thanks to its pioneering role in the world of “ultra-fast-fashion”, which takes an already wasteful practice and makes it worse.
Shein attempted to quell some of these concerns with an “extended producer responsibility fund”. For those of you who aren’t fluent in corporate buzzwords, it’s basically a donation that they don’t actually have to give away yet.
A $15 million commitment isn’t nothing, but it pales in comparison to both the value of the company and the damage they're responsible for in the areas they’re donating to. For that, combined with the extreme human rights abuses in their factories which an undercover journalist recently exposed, they needed to be included on this list.
Not to be outdone, Swedish fast-fashion giant H&M takes the cake for the most egregious greenwasher of 2023.
A recent campaign to advertise products it claimed were made in a more sustainable way is the main culprit behind its greenwashing accusations.
They’re far from the only fashion company to engage in deceptive advertising, but what’s truly shocking is the extent. Not only were its “conscious” products actually worse than their main lines, it was also discovered in a recent meta-analysis of European advertising that a whopping 96% of H&M’s sustainability claims were “unsubstantiated or misleading”.
Winner: Mercedes Benz
Mercedes gets some credit for creativity here. It ran an ad campaign featuring random instances of its logo appearing in the wild entitled “Nature or Nothing” to promote its new line of electric vehicles, which it has since distanced itself from.
Immediately, critics decried the campaign as greenwashing, pointing to the fact that Mercedes cheated billions in diesel emissions taxes by installing software that recognized when the car was being tested and adjusted to emit less as primary evidence the company does not actually care about its environmental impact.
Anyone familiar with the history of FIFA won’t be surprised to learn that their executive offices aren’t exactly stocked with hardcore environmentalists. Even so, the audacity to claim that the 2022 World Cup was “carbon neutral” is shocking.
Ignoring for a second that using a global event like the World Cup to legitimize an authoritarian petrostate could never be a net good for the environment, FIFA’s claim of carbon neutrality was eventually attributed to “creative accounting” and not any significant positive environmental impact. 😕
REI is usually seen as one of the few companies that actually does operate in a more ethical manner as their business model is pretty reliant on the environment being inhabitable. 🌎
After marketing a new line of sustainable waterproof apparel, it was revealed that the clothing line contained PFAs, a toxic substance often referred to as “forever chemicals” that cause human health problems and do not naturally decay.
Thanks for reading! If you've been inspired to help out in the fight against the climate crisis, start by offsetting your emissions here, helping me come up with a better name for these awards by this time next year (desperately needed🙏), or by subscribing below to stay up-to-date on all of the need-to-know climate problems and solutions.