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Explainer: What is greenwashing?

Updated: Nov 20, 2022

"Greenwashing" is a term that is increasingly popping up in climate change conversations. So what does it mean?


An explainer, by bird story agency


Explained: What is greenwashing? [Graphics: Hope Mukami]


Greenwashing is an unethical practice whereby an organisation seeks to make shareholders and/ or clients believe that they are committed to environmental consciousness when they are not.

It is a deceptive practice to attract customers looking to engage and work with environmentally friendly businesses.


While the ultimate goal of greenwashing, in most cases, is profit-making, it can also be used for political purposes.


Greenwashing is often associated with the duplicitous or incorrect valuation of carbon-offset programs.


The threat posed by climate change on the world has pushed many entities, especially business organisations, into aligning their business operations with climate change management, particularly in financial commitments. Those that have lagged fear losing their customer base or even falling foul of legislation - thus the appeal of greenwashing.


Discussions about greenwashing have surfaced at the ongoing COP 27 climate conference, with experts warning net zero pledges and commitments from non-state actors, especially business corporations, could be marred with greenwashing claims.


It has generated further conversations about the widely varying valuations of carbon credits and how those work. There is also increasing focus on how companies market themselves in the "green" space without following through on commitments.


A report from the United Nations high-level expert group on the net zero emissions commitments of non-state entities unveiled during the climate conference, COP 27, lists ten recommendations for non-state actors committing to net zero emissions.

• Announcing a Net Zero Pledge.

• Setting net-zero targets.

• Using voluntary credits.

• Creating a transition plan.

• Phasing out fossil fuels and scaling up renewable energy.

• Aligning lobbying and advocacy.

• People and nature in the just transition.

• Increasing transparency and accountability.

• Investing in just transitions.

• Accelerating the road to regulation.


Climate change activists, including Greta Thunberg, skipped this year's COP 27, citing the insincerity of the conference heads in tackling the climate change challenge, especially after Coca-Cola was unveiled as a key sponsor of the conference despite being one of the leading plastics pollutants globally.


Break Free from Plastics, a climate activist organisation named Coca-Cola the 'top plastic polluting corporation of 2021'.


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