A cheats guide to greenwashing

It’s a sad indictment on our society that consumers are now demanding that profit-making companies care about the future of the world, blah, blah, blah.

In the good old days, you could tell an outright lie about the health benefits of smoking or spread rumours that climate scientists were taking money from George Soros to exaggerate the risks of global warming.

Now you have to be a bit more sneaky and give the impression of being green without actually straight up lying.

Thankfully, we have greenwashing to help.

Does the company you’re working for spend 97% of its capital expanding coal or gas operations? Don’t worry, you can still focus on that 3% of green investment to give it a social license to trash the planet.

Does that coal mining company also donate to Aboriginal communities, sponsor women in stem awards or football teams? Excellent, just focus on that bit. You never need to mention or even show a photo of the company’s actual product.

Fortunately, the Australian Association of National Advertisers’ code on making environmental claims will only get you in trouble if you actually make a claim.

So, absolutely make sure you don’t promise anything that can be checked or verified.

Energy companies (which pesky activists sometimes call ‘fossil fuel’ companies) are total pros at this.

For example, AGL, in its ‘Progress for Life’ campaign video says; ”We’re there for the surprise” while showing an image of a solar panel.

What’s the surprise you ask? Is it that AGL is Australia’s largest emitter of greenhouse gas emissions?

Later, the voiceover enthuses (after an image of an electric car) “You can’t always see us, yet we’re there’. Misleading yes, and a little bit creepy too, but not against any rules.

Or, like BP, you can say you’re going to do the right thing by 2050 and use lots of images of forests in your marketing. Nobody can argue against something that you’ve promised to do in 30 years. And most people are too lazy to check if you’ve got an actual plan in place to achieve those aims.

Remember, this is about giving an impression of being responsible while still making a profit digging up and burning fossil fuels.

Another way to avoid scrutiny is to go through well meaning but unsuspecting third parties. Jemena energy did this with a PR campaign that purported to show the health benefits of “natural gas” to women’s health.

So, on the Morning Show on Channel 7, it was proclaimed, “According to scientific research, the flame in your gas log fire can have a positive impact on your mental health and wellbeing”. Awesome! This gave a great reason to have a photo opportunity with influencers meditating around a BBQ (no, this is not satire). The meditation was then promoted across Instagram by paid influencers.

So again, we’re promoting the impression that gas is as healthy and natural as clean air, while ignoring the massive damage being done by it’s by-product, methane, a potent greenhouse gas (not to mention those unfortunate risks of carbon monoxide poisoning from dodgy gas heaters).

Remember, if your business is producing more gas, it’s better to just have a target to reduce carbon — not methane. It’s also a really good idea to say your product is ‘greener’ or ‘healthier’ than coal. Because, let’s face it, what isn’t healthier than coal, LOL.

Ahh, the pure calm of BBQ meditation.