Often cited as the first and worst example 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 water act, the clean air act, and spilling oil in nature refuges.
Tip 1: Don’t believe the hype. Big 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 unsustainable.
Be wary of brands that launch an eco-friendly collection or ethical initiative when the majority of the company’s output is not – a report published by the WWF in 2016 found that the companies using the most cotton globally were among the worst for delivering on cotton sustainability.
As sustainability and responsible choices become more of a priority for consumers, corporations have been quick to exploit public perception of their ethical goal-setting, and use fluffy language or green imagery to lend their brand credibility.
‘Natural’ fibers? 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 fertilizers that persist in the environment and compromise biodiversity. On top of that, a sheet or pillowcase made from ‘pure’ organic cotton fibers may still have been processed with poisonous chemicals, and sewn and finished in a factory that is unsafe, employs children or exploits its labor force.