We’ve often seen buzzwords like ‘carbon footprint’, ‘offsetting’ and ‘net zero’ used by companies touting their eco-friendly efforts; but what, if anything, does this mean in terms of their climate action? I’ll give you a hint; it’s not always as beneficial as some would have us believe.
This is not to say that businesses with environmental action points aren’t initiating impactful, sustainable changes to their practices and products; many are doing the work, but it’s critical we’re aware of any companies that mislead consumers about their environmental credentials/performance; commonly referred to as greenwashing.
Our carbon footprint, for example, refers to the total amount of greenhouse gas emissions that someone/something produces. On a personal level, it’s about taking a look at where our everyday actions contribute to global warming; and what changes we can make to become more environmentally friendly and energy-efficient. Nobody is likely to argue that identifying what we can implement as consumers to fight rapid climate change isn’t a worthy undertaking. The problem is that the term ‘carbon footprint’ was first coined by British Petroleum (BP) to deflect attention from its own carbon emission pollution and that of other industry behemoths; who are profoundly responsible for driving global warming. Through a very slick and effective ad campaign, BP managed to promote the idea that individuals, and not Big Oil are responsible for climate change.
The oil giant infused the term into our normal, everyday lexicon. (And the sentiment is not totally wrong — some personal efforts to strive for a cleaner world do matter.) But there’s now powerful, plain evidence that the term “carbon footprint” was always a sham, and should be considered in a new light — not the way a giant oil conglomerate, who just a decade ago leaked hundreds of millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, wants to frame your climate impact. | Mark Kauffman – Mashable
If a brand, business, company or industry uses the term ‘carbon footprint’ in their production and/or marketing; it’s worth checking to see if they clearly outline exactly what they mean by it. Are they establishing measurable steps with regards to their own practices or merely stating a set of suggested goals? It’s also worth having a healthy dose of scepticism when offsetting is being used as a means to lower carbon emissions and fight climate damage.
‘Offsetting’ is when greenhouse gas emissions from industrial, corporate and (sometimes) individual activity get ‘neutralized’ through participating in or funding different initiatives that extract equivalent amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere — thus reducing this type of pollution. This essentially means a company will support ecologically protective programs like renewable energy projects, anti-deforestation organizations and tree-planting drives to compensate for their carbon footprint. The trouble with the concept behind offsetting is that it can sometimes be a climate action mirage.
A company cannot offset its way to net-zero emissions because it undermines the need for investment in structural changes to cut pollution […] | Jess Shankleman & Akshat Rathi via Bloomberg Green
If I were to punch someone in the face and then pay for a different person to receive a facial massage to offset the harm I caused; I’m not making the initial injury any better. I’m also not being held accountable for my behaviour or reforming it in any concrete way; I can keep punching people in the face while looking like I care about them without making amends.
This may seem like a glib comparison to make but it does go some way to explain how offsetting doesn’t necessarily encourage the industrial change needed to boldly tackle global warming. Major contributors to climate change shouldn’t get to pat themselves on the back for promoting and funding sustainable projects and organisations; while they continue the practices that are pushing us towards ecological collapse. We need systemic change that works alongside the initiatives that are at the forefront of proactive environmental protection and justice.
Working towards net-zero has merit (offsetting that creates complete carbon neutrality); it does generate avenues for significant financial support of the environmental solutions we desperately need. But if businesses and corporations still get to habitually pollute the Earth while doing it, net-zero begins to look a lot like obfuscation. I think it’s time for absolute truth and transparency from Big Fossil Fuel and their ilk. I’m tired of the greenwashing about how great their climate actions are; at this point, it just feels like they’re punching us all in the face while telling us it doesn’t hurt.
Have you heard of greenwashing before? Do you think fossil fuel industries are doing enough to combat global warming? How is climate change impacting where you live?
Environmental & Climate Justice – NAACP