Mainstream Environmentalism Is A LARP. Here’s Why You Should Be Wary Of Corporate “Greenwashing”

Unsurprisingly, Americans have officially been caught over-exaggerating their eco-warrior statuses – and worse, if no one’s watching, they’re far less likely to practice sustainable habits!

By Andrea Mew7 min read
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Shutterstock/Mandic Photos

You can’t sit by idly, we’re on the verge of an irreversible climate crisis! Or at least, that’s what we’ve been told by world leaders. Upon taking office, President Biden rejoined the Paris Climate Agreement and created America’s first-ever National Climate Task Force which immediately set some lofty goals. By 2035, we’re supposed to source 100% of our electricity from carbon pollution-free sources. By 2050, our economy should have achieved net-zero emissions, meaning that the federal government would put pressure on both public and private industry to implement rapid, widespread changes to day-to-day business operations.

Reducing any unnecessary, harmful strain on our planet is admirable, but now that tight deadlines have been set it feels like every brand is trying to showboat their sustainability practices. In some cases, I’m left wondering if their flaunting will actually make a difference or if it’s simply a virtue-signal to stay on trend. 

What’s the Deal with All This Eco-Friendly Fibbing?

Based on the fact that a recent survey by OnePoll revealed that more than half of Americans over-exaggerate just how eco-friendly their habits are (and admitted they’re less likely to practice sustainability when no one’s watching!), it’s pretty clear we’ve curated a culture of performative sustainability. This is a phenomenon that corporations and our government alike are equally guilty of, and one which you may know by another name: greenwashing.

Danielle Butcher Franz, executive vice president of the American Conservation Coalition, explained in an exclusive interview with Evie that corporate greenwashing is when marketing is used to deceptively present corporations as being more environmentally friendly, sustainable or socially responsible than they are.

“While their front-facing efforts may sound nice, behind the scenes, their actual practices are not aligned with the image they project. The goal is to appeal to the growing number of environmentally conscious consumers without making significant changes to their operations,” Butcher Franz said. 

Though there are countless examples of corporate greenwashing like Nestle and the Coca-Cola Company spearheading the Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) movement, fast fashion companies often take the cake. Butcher Franz noted that despite fashion brand Boohoo being ranked one of the “least sustainable” brands in the United Kingdom, the brand made headlines – albeit, quite negative ones – for naming Kourtney Kardashian Barker as Boohoo’s new “sustainability ambassador.” 

Similarly, fast-fashion brand Uniqlo named fictional cat character Doraemon as their “Global Sustainability Ambassador.” What does Doraemon do to benefit the planet? Well, he turns green to activate his “sustainability mode”! Behind the curtains, Uniqlo is battling an Indonesian workers’ rights controversy. You’d think those who truly care about social justice would be enraged by third-world garment workers being kept from the wages they’ve worked so hard to earn, but alas, a responsible public image is better accomplished through performative “green” marketing.

Companies take performative environmental stances because of the short-term gratification offered through social media.

Gabriella Hoffman, a Senior Fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum’s (IWF) Center for Energy and Conservation, also explained in an exclusive interview with Evie that companies take performative environmental stances because of the short-term gratification offered through social media likes and clicks when they project a good, virtuous image. If brands then “up the ante on their altruism,” she noted that they could be more richly rewarded through invitations to conferences and shows. Think Leonardo DiCaprio flying 8,000 miles via a private jet to accept a climate change-related award, or influencer deals, for example.

“But oftentimes, the loudest voices preaching superiority over others on climate and environmental issues don’t live up to the standards or values,” said Hoffman, stating how the expectations set by today’s environmental movement are both unreasonable and impractical not only for companies to adopt, but for your everyday person as well. 

She continued, “Giving up first-world luxury comforts, severely altering your diet, going full electric, restructuring the economy to go net-zero – such drastic changes aren't necessary to maintain our natural spaces and strong economic standing.”

Social Pressure Puts an Emphasis on Personal Image over Our Planet’s Well-Being  

Where else may greenwashing be poisoning the well? Look no further than today's dating arena. Want a better chance of impressing your date? Well, as we learned earlier this year, three-quarters of Tinder singles preferred matches who are comfortable airing their social stances. 

The OnePoll survey data only reinforced this trend, revealing that Americans who exaggerate green habits do so specifically to impress others. Respondents shared that their top reason to live sustainably was to protect the planet for future generations, but it’s worth noting that many people did in fact admit how pressured they felt by society to be more eco-friendly and that they didn’t want to face judgment.

“People tend to over-exaggerate how eco-friendly they are due to peer pressure and not wanting to face ostracism by their peers. They fear shame and isolation from others who have the potential to cancel them, so they subscribe to the narrative without question,” Hoffman said. 

No one wants to feel ostracized by their peers. It’s much easier to swim with the current and unquestioningly subscribe to the narrative than it is to offer yourself up to the rabid grasp of cancel culture. Indeed, research suggests that young men and women feel less confident engaging in the climate conversation out of a fear of being “canceled” by peers than they do when speaking out publicly on topics like LGBTQ+ issues or racism. Almost a quarter of those surveyed said that they’d feel like hypocrites for speaking up about environmentalism if they didn’t happen to be leading a perfectly sustainable lifestyle offline.

Though I wish people would feel more comfortable doing their own research and being open to hearing viewpoints that challenge mainstream thought, I know that many would rather choose the path of least resistance. While I certainly wouldn’t want to live that way, I can at least understand where they’re coming from. However, I don’t see much of an excuse for corporations that look to force behaviors on consumers that have no measurable positive impact on our environment. This “eco-hypocrisy,” as Hoffman called it, is growing in popularity thanks to the ESG movement.

Corporate “Greenwashers” Think They’re Driving Profits, but This Just Isn’t True

It’s simply not enough to just have measurable financial goals based on profit anymore – ESG goals are all the rage among businesses and organizations. According to the Green Business Bureau, a nationally recognized environmentalist certification provider, companies adopt ESG principles to define their “vision, mission, strategy, tactics, and values that consider, measure and report on a business’s sustainability performance.”

What was once just an element of purpose-driven organizations is now becoming the expectation for all businesses. Sustainability signals profitability to investors, but despite the consumer desire to see performative environmentalism, investment portfolios that engage in this ESG LARP don’t actually show better financial performances. In the past, sustainable investing was predicted to drive high profits. The logic was that by advancing a political agenda, profits and shareholder returns will increase. But as it turns out, the corporations that stay neutral on political and social issues actually outperform those that are all aboard the ESG train.

The corporations that stay neutral on political and social issues actually outperform those aboard the ESG train.

As mentioned before, the Coca-Cola Company is one of many major corporations that have adopted a purpose-driven model. Coca-Cola’s “continuously evolving” solutions for combating climate change are accomplished through what they call their “Science-Based Targets.”

By 2030, Coca-Cola intends to reduce certain carbon emissions by 25%, and by 2040 they have committed to net zero carbon emissions. They reported that they’ll accomplish full decarbonization through swapping their energy sources for 100% renewable options (such as solar or wind) and using packaging and agricultural ingredients which have a lower carbon impact. 

“It's a stretch to call decarbonization – especially the scaling up of solar and wind energy development to replace coal, oil, and gas – eco-friendly,” said Hoffman. “These two touted alternatives may sound attractive and sustainable on paper, but when these projects go online, they have ruinous effects.”

According to Hoffman, solar and wind energy sources have intermittent usability and an unreliable baseload. Furthermore, she noted that if we were to make mass swaps to solar and wind when phasing out coal, oil, and gas, there would be vast, costly infrastructure demands on both onshore and marine lands. In the process, Hoffman said that a lot of wildlife will be unnecessarily sacrificed.

“Supplements to oil, gas, and coal that should be seriously considered are nuclear and geothermal. They are innovative, have reliable 24/7 base loads, and don't require much land to harness energy,” Hoffman said. 

Hoffman’s director at IWF’s Center for Energy and Conservation, Mandy Gunsaekara, said on Fox Business that nuclear energy is an absolute “no-brainer” if we want to wean ourselves off fossil fuels. Nevertheless, many environmentalists don’t think nuclear energy is a viable climate solution because of the risks it may pose. Certainly, tragic accidents relating to nuclear energy have occurred, but these shouldn’t outweigh the numerous environmental benefits that nuclear offers from protecting our air quality, reducing our land footprint, and producing minimal waste.

Where Corporate America Goes, Consumers Assume They Need To Follow

So once again, corporations adopt misleading sustainability initiatives to march in lockstep with ESG virtue signaling and then pass marching orders along to the consumer to engage in even more futile behaviors. Don’t get me wrong here, there’s nothing wrong with personally adopting eco-friendly habits. Even I absolutely love my reusable glass water bottles, but as Butcher Franz put it, sometimes individual actions distract us from what we should actually be focusing on to make a positive environmental impact.

“Reusable grocery bags are a great example of this,” Butcher Franz pointed out, citing a 2018 study which found that in lieu of plastic bags, you’d have to reuse your cotton bags over seven thousand times to make a noticeable environmental impact. “Similarly, while straws are a source of plastic waste, they account for a small fraction of overall plastic pollution. The recent effort to ban them does little to impact the overall health of our planet. Removing plastic waste from the ocean is a worthy cause – but we’ve got to think bigger than banning straws.”

On TikTok, videos tagged #ecoswap have amassed over 30 million views from users suggesting environmentalist life hacks such as using plastic-free takeout containers, buying “zero-waste” laundry detergent sheets, brushing your teeth with bamboo toothbrushes, or buying compostable phone cases. 

There are definitely good intentions behind these product swaps, but let’s be real – how many people who actually buy bamboo toothbrushes properly dispose of it when they’re done? According to Keepsie Kits on TikTok, you’d ideally have to remove every bristle with pliers, throw the bristles in the garbage, and then compost or upcycle the bamboo handle. Not to be a cynic, but I’d imagine most people who end up with bamboo toothbrushes simply toss the entire thing in the garbage, or if they try to recycle the wood, I doubt they’re individually removing each brush bristle.

“Individual actions matter, yes, but for those who want to make a true impact, we should shift our attention to things like addressing our nation’s archaic energy permitting process or our aversion to nuclear power – changes that are good for both people and the planet,” said Butcher Franz.

Reframing the Narrative for Genuine Progress

Butcher Franz explained that while ESG investing has dominated environmental news, it’s not a meaningful substitute for grassroots work that local activists do. From her perspective, local activism can create a sense of ownership and responsibility since on-the-ground efforts build relationships within a community and mobilize people around a given issue. 

Yes, you can let capitalism run its course by opting out of buying synthetic leather and encouraging your fellow fashionable friends to do the same, for example, since mainstream faux leather is neither sustainable nor biodegradable and actually worsens microplastic pollution. Beach cleanup projects are often considered to be “ripples in a pond” that could lead to bigger environmental differences (and more beautiful beaches), but there’s truly a limit to what the individual can do to enact change.

Environmental justice often has a narrow focus on protecting the future by changing current behaviors. Perhaps you’ve heard environmentalists say that we need to adopt more eco-friendly habits to ensure a more equitable world. However, isn’t it a bit tragic that major world issues going on today end up getting overshadowed by our goals for the world of tomorrow? 

Truly inequitable problems which could have effective (but far less marketable) solutions are not being addressed.

Over the past 100 years, global death risk from droughts, floods, and other bouts of extreme weather has declined by 99%. Humans have had an impact on our climate, but the effects are over exaggerated, and, as president of the Copenhagen Consensus Center Bjorn Lomborg said in a 2020 article on 21st century welfare, we risk “diverting attention and funds from more effective ways to improve the world.”

In a recent exclusive with the National Post, Lomborg asserted that world leaders have placed too strong a priority on “peripheral issues like providing green spaces,” “global awareness of lifestyles in harmony with nature,” or recycling. Meanwhile, a perfectly treatable disease like tuberculosis is quietly killing over 1.5 million people worldwide every year. He also reminded us that only 1 in 10 children from poverty-stricken nations can read or write, and that annually over two million children and 300,000 women die in or around childbirth. 

We care so much about the gender wage gap in America while not taking into consideration that 80% of global underpaid textile workers are women. These women cry out for their right to fair living wages and education, but major corporations put ineffective virtue-signaling marketing campaigns above actually making positive change. Simply put, we need to sort out our priorities because truly inequitable problems which could have effective (but far less marketable) solutions are not being addressed.

Closing Thoughts

The companies that are truly making a difference for conservation and environmentalism aren’t the ones proudly waving their ESG flags. They’re not proselytizing you to drastically change your lifestyle by eating bug-based or synthetically produced meats, or make you feel guilty about needing to drive to work using a petrol-powered motor vehicle when walking or biking is simply out of the picture.

There are meaningful projects that Americans, regardless of their political leanings, can get behind like 4ocean and Toyota, as Hoffman suggested. Small businesses like Rif Care practice carbon neutrality “by design, rather than offsetting” since they are made with hemp and only plant-based materials instead of petrol-based polymers and polyesters, or the GROCERIES apparel brand, which quite literally upcycles food scraps to make clothing. Thoughtfully eco-friendly businesses are out there and not just selling us lies to turn a profit.

Furthermore, we need to stop letting climate alarmism dilute the issues that actually matter the most to better the lives of people in the here and now. Imagine if investors, corporations, and governments focused more efforts on problems that could, say, reduce world poverty… ESG is already proving to have a bad ROI, so perhaps it’s time to rethink those investments.

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