Often cited as one of the first and worst examples of greenwashing, Chevron’s People Do campaign promoted its ‘environmental programs’ in a series of million-dollar TV adverts. However, most of them were mandatory obligations, funded by an amount that was miniscule compared to the oil company’s marketing spend. At the same time, Chevron was violating the clean air act, the clean water act, and spilling oil in nature refuges.
Tip 1: don’t believe the hypeBig business and empty gestures are often bedfellows. If a company is making grand claims in one area, check out its track record in others. Efforts to reduce environmental impact should be proportional to the footprint – so just using ‘recyclable’ packaging or renewable energy is not enough if the core product is problematic.
Be wary of brands that launch an ethical initiative or eco-friendly collection when the majority of the company’s output is not – a report published by the WWFin 2016 found that the companies using the most cotton globally were among the worst for delivering on cotton sustainability.
As responsible choices and sustainability become more of a priority for consumers, corporations have been quick to exploit public perception of their ethical goal-setting, and use woolly language or green imagery to lend their brand credibility.
‘Natural’ fibres? Well, technically, cotton plants are natural and therefore ‘organic’, but the majority of conventional cotton crops are GMO, water intensive, and doused with harmful pesticides and synthetic fertilisers that persist in the environment and compromise biodiversity. On top of that, a sheet or pillowcase made from ‘pure’ organic cotton fibres may still have been processed with poisonous chemicals, and sewn and finished in a factory that is unsafe, employs children or exploits its workers.