August 25, 2023

Greta Vs Greenwashing

Last month, Greta Thunberg pulled out of the Edinburgh Book Festival after accusing one of their major sponsors of ‘greenwashing’. Thunberg was due to give a climate talk to an audience of 3,000. The sponsors were Baillie Gifford and in an investigation by The Ferret (Scottish investigative news site) it came to light that Baillie Gifford invest in firms that profit from fossil fuels.


‘As a climate activist, I cannot attend an event which receives sponsorship from Baille Gifford. Greenwashing efforts by the fossil fuel industry, including sponsorship of cultural events, allow them to continue operating. I cannot and do not want to be associated with events that accept this kind of sponsorship’. Greta Thunberg


Let’s have a closer look at greenwashing.

Greenwashing refers to a company misleading customers by promoting a product or indeed the whole company as environmentally friendly, when in fact it’s not.




Some of the tactics involve, using deceptive marketing campaigns, self-promoting tiny environmental benefits and presenting an illusion of sustainability. Remember when McDonalds brought out paper straws. And they turned out not to be recyclable!


So why do they do it?

The answer is simple … to capitalise on the growing demand for sustainable products and services.


If you are looking at purchasing a product, be aware of:

  • Vague and fluffy terminology. Company using generic terms like eco-friendly, green choice and planet friendly.
  • False certification claim. Company uses misleading logos and certificates (tricky to detect).
  • Misleading packaging. Some companies use misleading imagery or words like natural or green on their product packaging, creating the illusion of being sustainable and earth friendly.


There are some great ‘sustainable apps’ available like Fair Food Forager, Good Fish and Shop Ethical to help you choose planet friendly products.


Green apps to help us make green choices.


Green hushing is a new term, that I’ve only recently heard. This is when companies take steps to stay quiet about their climate strategies. They do this through avoidance or refusal. If someone asks about their climate goals, they decline to answer. If no-one asks, they keep quiet. Green hushing tends to take place within larger corporations who are afraid of being told they aren’t doing enough. And that’s because … they usually aren’t doing enough!


While Thunberg’s action did not precipitate a mass withdrawal of other authors, it did lead to an open letter to the festival signed by major writers (including Zadie Smith), demanding that Baillie Gifford be dropped as the sponsor from next year’s event. Greenwashing poses a challenge to sustainability efforts. We need to take Greta’s lead and call it out when we see it. And maybe we will see some significant changes in the way companies do ‘green’ business.


Writer: Colleen B. Filippa


With a background in Environmental Science, Colleen is the Founding Director of Fifteen Trees. In 2009, after 20 years in primary, secondary and tertiary education institutions, Colleen left the classroom to start the company. Fifteen Trees is a social enterprise assisting individuals and companies to reduce their carbon footprint by supporting community groups such as Landcare, schools and environmental networks.


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