Klima’s Anti Greenwashing Manifesto
Our world has become awash with climate promises. But how to determine whom to trust? Here are our principles to differentiate substance from empty marketing.
Aligning our lifestyles with our values is a true challenge in this age of consumerism we all inherited. One of the hardest things for any climate-conscious individual is to navigate the abundance of “sustainable solutions” out there, promising to help us green our lives. What makes it even more difficult is the economic incentive for businesses to overpromise and underdeliver on their green credentials. Or even worse, simply painting their existing business practices in a green color and call it a day. It’s called greenwashing and we won’t stand for it!
Greenwashing can present itself in many shapes and forms. It might be placing a disproportionate emphasis on symbolic green initiatives while being intransparent on larger environmental harm caused elsewhere. Often it is the misleading use of suggestive imagery or vague terminology in an attempt to evoke positive feelings that distract from legitimate criticism. Sometimes this might simply be based in the human desire to please others, at other times it’s a calculated business practice and an act of willful deception.
Greenwashing hurts our planet. It deceives the public about the true state of affairs and encourages complacency. It weakens the positive impact our actions can have as it misdirects good intentions towards questionable outcomes, or even worse, causes well-meant actions to do more bad than good.
To safeguard against intentional or unintentional greenwashing when promoting climate action, there are a few clear rules that companies and organizations should follow and that users can look for when deciding whom to trust. These principles evolved out of our own experiences in the sustainability space. We wrote them down as a compass to steer our day-to-day practices and a guide to follow when in doubt. This is our Anti Greenwashing Manifesto.
Vague terminology is a key element of greenwashing. Words like “natural” or “green” can have a very broad meaning and evoke even broader associations. If you use them, make sure to provide the precise context to substantiate the green effects you’re referring to. Using climate action terminology in an inflationary way actually hurts the climate cause.
Acting on climate change is a truly noble cause and we need more people to join us. That’s why “Do good and talk about it” is actually the right imperative to normalize climate action. But with that in mind, it’s crucial never to overstate your impact! Be proud but don’t deceive yourself or others. The climate crisis is dramatic and we need to be realistic about the progress we’re making and how much is still left to do.
Not all climate action is created equal. Before promoting any action, give it a science check. Reusing a plastic bag for a whole month can make someone feel great about their consistent efforts. But a single decision to swap a flight for a Zoom call creates more impact than reusing that bag every day for one thousand years. Distinguishing between between high- and low-impact actions matters! What feels equally accomplished can be orders of magnitude less consequential. With limited mindshare and resources to spend, it’s crucial to focus our efforts on science-based, quantifiable, and high-impact actions.
Don’t claim that your solution is the only, or the superior one. We need all of the above. This crisis is too big to focus on only one angle and it’s too urgent to waste time on ideologies. We need to act top-down and bottom-up and we need to unite rather than divide if we want to stand a chance. That doesn’t mean to not be critical. We must improve on all fronts and critical discourse is a great catalyst for that. But if we let ego and competition get in the way of cooperation, we’re only reproducing the mindset that got us into this mess to begin with.
Be open about your intentions, your methods, and your benchmarks. Be transparent about the impact you’re achieving so others can learn what works and make informed decisions. Share your thought process, your growth, your failings, and your learnings. When in doubt, push yourself out of the comfort zone and remember that more transparency invites more trust.
The climate crisis is profoundly complex. Our scientific understanding evolves constantly, and new solutions are proposed daily while old ones need to be reevaluated. There’s always more to learn. Be aware of what you don’t know (yet) and willing to evolve your strategies and practices as more information becomes available to you. Stay informed, listen more than you talk, and focus on your questions rather than your answers.
Be an example
Helping others reach their climate goals means that others look to you for guidance. Take this as an honor and an opportunity to hold yourself to standards high enough that they would heal the world if anyone followed them. Establish and grow your accountability practices in a measurable and ambitious way and across all dimensions of your social and environmental impact.