Clean and green

Greenwashing highlights a lack of transparency and care


Sonia Verma

Greenwashing often derives from a lack of transparency or care.

Sarah Liu

In the last two years, nearly half of the $23.7 million spent on Google search ads by five major oil companies have targeted search terms relating to sustainability, according to a report published by the Center for Countering Digital Hate on Nov. 3. The report found that the firms were buying ads on Google’s front page to display to users searching for terms like “net zero” and “eco-friendly.” For example, a person searching for information about the greenhouse gas methane would find an advertisement from Exxon promoting the “company’s commitment to a greener future.”

It’s no coincidence that four of these five commonly dubbed Big Oil companies, which have accounted for around 10% of global carbon emissions since 1965, have increased fossil fuel production while making only superficial investments in clean energy

This inconsistency between the companies’ representation in the public and their actual climate-related actions underlines a deceptive marketing strategy: greenwashing.

Greenwashing is an advertising practice where companies make unsubstantiated claims about an environmentally-friendly product or service. When companies and brands greenwash, they distract and deceive the public about their role in the climate crisis. For example, many companies and brands create climate pledges promising to transition into climate-friendly corporations, when in reality, many of their business practices actually contribute to driving climate change. 

The millions of dollars these corporations are trying to save by putting up this facade of being environmentally friendly won’t only hurt millions of lives, but the whole of our planet, in the near future.

The problem with greenwashing is that it’s hard to detect and even harder to remedy. Often, it’s easier to live in the illusion — to take these companies’ words for granted that yes, fighting climate change is their number one priority — than put in the time and effort to conduct extensive research on their climate policies and speak the truth. Moreover, greenwashing highlights a deeper issue of creating a quick but unhelpful “solution” in response to increasing pressure from the public to become more climate-conscious. Essentially, greenwashing derives from a lack of transparency, knowledge or care (or most often, all of the above).

This June, a university student wrote an article criticizing her university for being a greenwashing school, citing the school’s lack of action in working on their climate report and most notably “not acting on their environmental promises.” However, it’s important to note that the intention behind greenwashing isn’t always deception. Sometimes, corporations or schools fully intend to act on their environmental goals but may fall behind due to a lack of accountability. 

Ultimately, greenwashing serves as a reminder that only full transparency and real effort will create tangible change in our communities.

For example, at MVHS, we have numerous recycling bins around campus, but the lack of knowledge and care about which bin is for which type of trash (combined with the nearly completely faded markings on trash bins) means that a lot less trash is actually recycled than the number of recycling bins makes it seem. While we may have recycling bins at every corner, without proper education and accountability, the number of recycling bins is meaningless. 

Ultimately, greenwashing serves as a reminder that only full transparency and real effort will create tangible change in our communities. The best way to fight greenwashing is through talking and learning about it.

The truth is, when these major corporations greenwash, there’s not much that we as youth can do about it. We can raise awareness about deceptive greenwashing practices and call out companies for their lack of action, but ultimately, billion-dollar corporations are likely to have much more sway in policymaking and creating government regulations than we do. 

However, we can start creating a change in the mindsets of the next generation by setting a good example for others. We must ensure that our communication regarding environmental policies with students and staff is properly informed and transparent to avoid accidental greenwashing. To do so, FUHSD should create a detailed Climate Action Plan, like Cupertino’s Climate Action Plan for the city, for all high schools with specific goals we will hold ourselves accountable to. Additionally, we should implement more climate change education into different facets of our curriculum to instill a sense of urgency for the future of our planet in the next generation. Above all, it is essential to reflect why sustainability deserves to be the focus of our work with students.

We deserve a clean, green future. Let’s work to make it a reality.