The article titled “The publicity stunt of greenwashing the climate crisis” published on November 24 in the Arts & Culture section gives a misleading definition of greenwashing. The author defines greenwashing as “people who jump on the climate crisis bandwagon, hoping to benefit from the environmental movement without any intention of protecting the environment.”
The correct definition of greenwashing refers to when a company markets itself, or a particular product, as being ‘eco-friendly’ or ‘green,’ when in reality, it is not. Greenwashing is a tactic used by corporations to specifically target environmentally-conscious consumers.
This definition of greenwashing is supported by several outlets including Scientific American, Investopedia, The Guardian, and also peer-reviewed articles in both scientific journals, and business ethics journals. The author’s mistake lies in how they placed their definition in the context of the consumer instead of the corporation.
Greenwashing was first coined by American environmentalist Jay Westerveld in the 1980s in response to hotels that claimed they were environmentally friendly because they gave guests the option to not have their towels washed every day.
Westerveld claimed that this tricked guests into thinking the hotel was environmentally conscious when it was just saving money. The irony is that it was still polluting in other ways — for example with the detergent it used to wash the towels.
Another example of greenwashing is the marketing of compostable takeout containers over traditional plastic ones: this ‘compostable’ material is only compostable if the municipality has the industrial infrastructure to do so. Toronto does not. Every compostable container you’ve used in Toronto goes straight in the trash. Restaurants may tout the use of these containers as being better than the actually recyclable plastic alternative, tricking consumers into thinking they are making an eco-conscious choice by eating at that restaurant.
Later in the article, the author re-defines greenwashing as “when the pigment of our green hands washes off in the privacy of our own economic, social, and political decisions.” Again, this is misleading. Greenwashing is performed by corporations, not consumers. Consumers do not benefit by greenwashing — they are harmed by it.
There are also additional issues with the article unrelated to incorrect definitions. Namely, referring to the climate crisis in the same manner as a sports team — as the author does when they refer to the “climate crisis bandwagon” — downplays the severity of the issue, and may even deter others from participating in climate crisis mitigation by making them feel unwelcome if they are newcomers to the movement. The climate crisis is not, and should never be, an exclusive movement.
Clara Thaysen is a second-year Ecology & Evolutionary Biology graduate student.
Disclosure: Thaysen previously served as The Varsity’s Volume 138 Associate Science Editor.