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How Tokenism And GreenWashing Hide What We Can All Do

How Tokenism And GreenWashing Hide What We Can All Do

Greenwashing refers to the practice of making misleading or unsubstantiated claims about the environmental benefits of a product, service, or company to give the impression that they are more environmentally friendly than they actually are, and tokenism refers to superficial or symbolic gestures that give the appearance of environmental responsibility without addressing the core issues or making substantial changes.

Sadly, corporate greenwashing and tokenism is not uncommon, although today’s consumers are savvier than ever and more often than not, corporates do get caught out, leading to inevitable reputation losses.

Greenwashing: Caught In The Act

Volkswagen’s “Clean Diesel” campaign: In 2015, it was revealed that Volkswagen had cheated emissions tests on millions of diesel cars by installing software that could detect when the car was being tested and alter its performance to reduce emissions. This greenwashing scandal highlighted the potential for companies to use misleading marketing to make their products appear more environmentally friendly than they actually are.

McDonald’s “McPlant” burger: In 2021, McDonald’s launched the McPlant burger, a plant-based alternative to its classic beef burger. However, the burger was criticized for using a variety of unsustainable ingredients, such as beef tallow in its fries and palm oil in its bun. This case demonstrates how companies can greenwash their products by focusing on a single sustainability attribute while overlooking other environmental impacts.

Nestlé’s “eco-friendly” water bottles: Nestlé has been criticized for its marketing of certain water brands as environmentally friendly, despite the environmental impact of single-use plastic bottles. Critics argue that Nestlé’s promotion of recycling initiatives does not address the fundamental issues associated with the production and disposal of plastic bottles.

Tokenism: Alive And Well

Green Events with High Environmental Impact: Hosting a green-themed event or conference that emphasize environmental responsibility but has a high ecological footprint due to extensive travel, resource consumption, and waste generation is clearly tokenistic if it contradicts the event’s green messaging.

Single-Use Plastic Reduction: A business that proudly announces the elimination of plastic straws while continuing to use excessive single-use plastic packaging in its products may be guilty of tokenism if the reduction effort is limited and doesn’t extend to the core of its operations.

Limited Commitment to Renewable Energy: An organization that promotes its use of renewable energy but relies on a small percentage of renewable sources while the majority of its energy comes from non-renewable sources may be engaging in tokenism if it fails to make a substantial shift toward cleaner energy alternatives.

So What Can We Do?

Bogus ecological claims by large corporates hide the fact that there are small changes we can all individually make, which when combined, add up to make the world a better place:

Minimise your footprint – very little bit counts. Use public transport, cycle or a car pool whenever possible to reduce your carbon footprint. Avoid using unnecessary electricity and water, and turn off lights and appliances when not in use.

Embrace reusables and replace single-use items such as plastic bags, bottles, and plastic cutlery with reusable alternatives. Use your own coffee mug, water bottle, and shopping bags to eliminate unnecessary waste.

Beware of PFAs – per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are synthetic chemicals widely used in various products, from cookware to nonstick coatings. These “forever chemicals” persist in the environment and can have harmful health effects. Choose alternatives whenever possible and avoid consuming food cooked in PFAS-containing cookware.

Choose sustainable cleaning products – opt for eco-friendly cleaning products that are free from harmful chemicals and phosphates. These can be just as effective without harming the environment or your health. Shop local – support local farmers by purchasing fresh, seasonal produce. This minimises transportation emissions and promotes sustainable agriculture practices. Create a wildlife garden: Encourage insects and pollinators by planting a variety of native flowers and shrubs. Avoid using pesticides and herbicides, which can harm beneficial species. Sustainable Landscaping: Opt for native plants and compost your yard waste to reduce reliance on fertilisers and pesticides.

Refuse plastic packaging – avoid products with excessive plastic packaging whenever possible. Choose items with minimal or reusable packaging. Carry reusable items – always have reusable shopping bags, water bottles, and utensils on hand to eliminate unnecessary single-use plastic waste. Choose eco-friendly straws – opt for reusable stainless steel or bamboo straws as an alternative to disposable plastic straws.

It may seem small, but if we all start with small steps, these changes add up significantly.


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