Today's Editorial

Today's Editorial - 07 April 2024

Greenwashing our way into the future

Relevance: GS Paper III

Why in News?

According to a report by Carbon Majors, a worldwide think-tank, 251 Gigatons of carbon dioxide-equivalent emissions have been released after the Paris Agreement. This report reveals that 80% of these emissions come from just 57 mega-producer companies, which have increased their output rather than reducing it to comply with the Paris Agreement. These companies are using greenwashing tactics to justify their harmful actions.

Origin of the word:

  • The American ecologist Jay Westerveld was probably the first to use the term ‘greenwashing’ when he noticed a request from a luxury coastal resort asking its guests to reuse their towels to save coral reefs.
    • However, the resort chose to overlook that their impact and the tourism footprint were far greater than the negligible reduction in water and detergent use by reusing towels a few times.
  • Greenwashing involves systematic attempts to give environmentally harmful organisations and practices a positive connotation.

Growing issue of greenwashing:

  • People are increasingly aware of climate change, biodiversity collapse, and pollution's harmful effects, leading to pressure on corporations and institutions. Due to student activist groups, universities in the US and UK have divested from investing in oil and natural gas companies.
    • As a result, greenwashing is increasing in India and the rest of the world. It is present in many consumer products used in everyday life.
  • Companies use various tactics to conduct greenwashing, such as producing advertisements touting their green credentials, supporting museums and zoos, and funding fellowships and awards for researchers.
  • Even smaller businesses engage in greenwashing; some have received advertising awards for it.
    • This has expanded their reach and influence, making it increasingly unlikely that the world will meet its climate mitigation targets.
  • Another investigative report by the Guardian in September 2023 highlights a fruitful greenwashing area: global carbon markets.
    • These markets allow companies to offset their harmful environmental impact in one place by planting trees in other distant locations. However, this report found that many of these claims were false or exaggerated.

Greenwashing manifests itself in several ways – tactics include:

  • Claiming to be on track to reduce a company’s polluting emissions to net zero when no credible plan is actually in place.
  • Being purposely vague or non-specific about a company’s operations or materials used.
  • Applying intentionally misleading labels such as “green” or “eco-friendly”, which do not have standard definitions and can be easily misinterpreted.
  • Implying that a minor improvement has a major impact or promoting a product that meets the minimum regulatory requirements as if it is significantly better than the standard.
  • Emphasising a single environmental attribute while ignoring other impacts.
  • Claiming to avoid illegal or non-standard practices that are irrelevant to a product.
  • Communicating a product's sustainability attributes in isolation of brand activities (and vice versa) — e.g., a garment made from recycled materials that is produced in a high-emitting factory that pollutes the air and nearby waterways.

Why care about greenwashing, and how does it relate to climate change?

  • Greenwashing undermines credible efforts to reduce emissions and address the climate crisis.
  • Greenwashing, through deceptive marketing and false claims of sustainability, misleads consumers, investors, and the public, hampering the trust, ambition, and action needed to bring about global change and secure a sustainable planet.

How is the UN tackling greenwashing?

  • In its “Integrity Matters” report, the UN's High-Level Expert Group outlined ten recommendations for credible, accountable net-zero pledges.
    • Announcing a Net Zero Pledge
    • Setting Net Zero Targets
    • Using Voluntary Credits
    • Creating a Transition Plan
    • Phasing Out of Fossil Fuels and Scaling Up Renewable Energy
    • Aligning Lobbying and Advocacy
    • People and Nature in the Just Transition
    • Increasing Transparency and Accountability
    • Investing in Just Transitions
    • Accelerating the Road to Regulation
  • UN Climate Change published a Recognition and Accountability Framework and Draft Implementation Plan after the report.

How is India tackling greenwashing?

  • The Central Consumer Protection Authority has released Draft Guidelines for the Prevention and Regulation of Greenwashing 2024.
    • It defines Greenwashing as “any deceptive or misleading practice, which includes concealing, omitting, or hiding relevant information, by exaggerating, making vague, false, or unsubstantiated environmental claims and use of misleading words, symbols, or imagery, placing emphasis on positive environmental aspects while downplaying or concealing harmful attributes”.
  • These guidelines will apply to all advertisements, service providers, product sellers, advertisers, and advertising agencies or endorsers.
  • The guidelines also provide the provision that vague terms such as 'green', 'eco-friendly', 'eco-consciousness', 'good for the planet', 'cruelty-free', and similar assertions should be used only with adequate disclosures.
  • The Guidelines prescribe various disclosures that would be required to be made by the company making green claims. The various disclosures are -
    • Ensure all environmental claims in ads or communications are fully disclosed, either directly or through technology like QR codes or web links.
    • Avoid selectively presenting data to favourably highlight environmental claims while hiding unfavourable aspects.
    • Clearly define the scope of environmental claims, specifying whether they relate to products, manufacturing processes, packaging, product usage, disposal, services, or service provision processes.
    • All environmental claims shall be backed by verifiable evidence.
    • Comparative environmental claims that compare one product or service to another must be based on verifiable and relevant data.
    • Substantiate specific environmental claims with credible certification, reliable scientific evidence, and independent third-party verification for authenticity.

Way forward:

  • Need for collective action: It's important to be mindful of greenwashing in our daily lives. While we recognize the need to minimise our carbon and environmental footprints, it's easy to assume that buying "green" products alone will solve the problem. This is not the case.
    • We should make an effort to reduce our overall consumption, prioritise locally embedded tourism over green five-star tourism, and opt for plastic-free vegetables instead of buying them wrapped in plastic online, even if we use a cloth bag for grocery shopping.
  • Paris Agreement: In December 2015, 196 countries met in France to sign the ‘Paris Agreement’, a legally binding international treaty on climate change that commits signatories to action for climate mitigation, adaptation, and finance.
    • Mitigation is perhaps the most critical piece at this point. The climate will continue to warm as long as fossil fuel burning continues and greenhouse gases are pumped into the atmosphere.
  • Surface-level green vs. Genuine environmental impact: It's crucial to be aware of the difference between surface-level "green" choices and making a true impact on the environment.


Tackling greenwashing requires vigilance, regulatory measures, and a collective commitment to authentic environmental stewardship. By holding companies and institutions accountable and promoting genuine sustainability efforts, we can work towards a more sustainable future.

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