The Guardian • Issue #2102

GREEN NOTES

Greenwashing

Anna Pha

With increased concern over climate change and the desire for green energy and products, corporations are making an art form out of greenwashing. The methods vary from outright lies about products to changes to packaging with new ‘green’ labelling and charging consumers more for the ‘greener’ products. This latter method not only seeks to deceive but also serves to enhance profits.

In April this year the Channel 10 reality TV show, MasterChef, announced sponsorship deals with gas companies, and that it would use cooktops run on biomethane. Biomethane is methane produced from organic matter including food, animal, and human waste. Methane is more than 28 times more potent than carbon dioxide when it comes to trapping heat in the atmosphere. There is nothing green about it. MasterChef attracts an average of 1.42 million viewers, making it the most watched television show in its time slot. Ads during the program promote “Renewable Gas”! Instead of greenwashing, it should be promoting induction cooktops.

HSBC, one of the top banks globally, still finances carbon polluting industries such as thermal coal mining, oil, and gas. The company has the gall to claim it is financing many of these industries to help them eventually transition to net zero as it would be impractical to terminate funding now. Their greenwashing ads promoting their “climate friendly initiatives” were banned by the Advertising Standards Authority in the UK. At the same time HSBC was running workshops on how to spot and deal with greenwashing!

Closer to home, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) took the retail industry superannuation fund, Active Super (AS), to the Federal Court. ASIC alleged misleading conduct and misrepresentations to the market in relation to AS’s claims that it was an ethical and responsible superannuation fund. AS claimed that they had eliminated investments that posed too great a risk to the environment and the community, including tobacco manufacturing, oil tar sands, and gambling. ASIC Deputy Chair Sarah Court said, “There is much competition among super funds for new members, and we know that funds seek to attract members with promises their investments will not be exposed to certain industries. When making these claims super funds must have evidence to back their claims and ensure they are not promising exclusions that they cannot guarantee.” ASIC alleges that AS held 28 holdings, either directly or indirectly, which exposed members to investments it claimed to restrict. These included: Gambling – Skycity Entertainment Group, PointsBet Holdings, Tabcorp Holdings; Tobacco industry – Amcor which provides speciality cartons for the tobacco industry; Fossil fuels – Gazprom PJSC (gas), Rosneft Oil Company (oil and gas), Shell (oil, natural gas, oil sands activities), Whitehaven Coal (metallurgical and thermal coal).

(The Federal Court found Active Super guilty on 5 June 2024.)

Labelling on products is part of green credentials deception: look for the vague language with green-sounding words like ‘farm fresh’, ‘natural’, ‘conscious’, ‘sourced from nature’ amid images of animals, trees, or plants, or ‘cleaner’ (cleaner than what?).

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