February 5, 2024
As extreme weather events pound urban and rural communities across the world there is little dispute that global warming linked to fossil fuel usage is changing our landscapes and cities. In the recent COP28 (Conference of Parties) meeting, for the first time, countries agreed that it was necessary to “transition away from fossil fuels in energy systems” and that this should happen “in a just and equitable manner”. Although this seems like progress, for some COP is more of a cop out. Countries are not accountable for taking action and no timeframe has been established.
Many governments, businesses and corporations claim to be acting and changing policies and practices to reflect the public’s desire for action in order to prevent further global warming and reduce greenhouse gasses. The term ‘greenwash’ describes a key idea that a company or individual may fool or trick the public into buying their goods or services believing that they are sustainable and helping to save our planet. However there are no government regulations or rules to classify what is included for the ingredients or procedures when it comes to product labels using such terms as ‘green’, ‘eco -friendly’ and ‘natural’.
Sometimes an “eco friendly” practice can be more harmful to the environment if one does not fully investigate all materials, procedures and supply chains involved. As consumers how can we rely on sustainable certifications and be confident that they are authentic? Certified B Corporation (B-Corp), Cradle to Cradle Certified (C2C), Green America’s Green Business Certification and Fair Trade Certified also as Fair Trade USA are just a few examples of certifications that have very precise descriptions of what they assess and how they meet the classifications. As educators we need to ensure our students are clear on what sustainability really means to the world economy and corporate responsibility.
Given the climate emergency, many young people are concerned and may want to take action but are unclear about where to start. When working on community projects, students can be encouraged to survey local businesses about their sustainable practices and if sustainable values are embedded in their philosophy. Another way forward is for schools to tap into their alumni association. How active are your alumni network and programs, and what opportunities can you generate through these to inspire your students? How can university students share their experiences and insights with school communities? Do you know if any of your alumni are involved in developing new approaches for sustainable businesses and services?
We interviewed postgraduate student Lucy Ogilvy, who is currently studying a MSc in Corporate Sustainability and Environmental Management. Her objective is “to bridge theoretical knowledge with practical applications, gaining a nuanced understanding of corporations playing pivotal roles in either perpetuating environmental degradation or championing efforts for mitigation and resolution.” Lucy believes that sustainability involves a more comprehensive commitment beyond isolated eco-friendly practices, as in the case of a company she referred to that equated sustainability to the use of paper pens at conferences, and opting for glass bottled water over plastic.
Lucy has the following advice to offer students interested in sustainability:
- Attempt to understand the rationale behind individuals embracing greenwashing tactics.
- Probe into the origins of their beliefs and the factors shaping their viewpoint.
- Once you’ve identified the roots of their convictions, challenge these beliefs by presenting compelling evidence that disputes the legitimacy of the greenwashing narrative.
- Rather than engaging in confrontational debates, facilitate a constructive dialogue to explore whether their acceptance of greenwashing arises from a lack of exposure to accurate information or other influential factors.
- Guide students through an examination of the facts.
- Shed light on industry standards, reputable certifications, and transparent reporting practices that differentiate authentic sustainable practices from deceptive greenwashing strategies.
- Promote critical thinking and self-directed research to empower individuals to make informed decisions and hold companies accountable for their environmental assertions.
- Approaching the conversation with empathy and educational intent can contribute to a more enlightened and discerning perspective on sustainable practices.
One way of promoting critical thinking about these issues is for students to use one of the Harbord & Khan Thinking Tools, such as The Detective Toolⓒ:
TOPIC: When I buy new clothes how can I know that the labeling is accurate and that the company has sustainable practices?
IDENTIFY AND DESCRIBE: I want to buy a T-shirt from a company that has authentic, sustainable practices or offers secondhand clothing.
REASONS: I want to only spend money on purchases that have no or minimal bad effects on the environment. I feel this is one way I can make a difference. So much of our clothing, from the way workers are paid and treated to the manufacturing processes have a detrimental effect on the environment.
PROCESSES: I can research and discover which clothing manufacturers have sustainable processes. I could visit my favorite shops and ask about how they select their clothing labels. If I buy online, I can contact them and ask similar questions.
TIME AND PLACE: Be aware that the market place is rapidly changing to adapt to clients wants and needs as well as opportunities for online shopping.
ETHICAL VALUE: Honesty and Responsibility
I believe that labeling should be honest and not hide behind semantics, but I need to take responsibility and find products where the company’s core values place sustainability at the center of all they do.
ACTION: Look for clothing that has the logo of the Global Organic Textile Standards, or GOTS. A GOTS classification is highly respected due to the standards they set for production, environmental and social criteria. GOTS is verified by an independent third-party that examines the entire textile supply chain.
How can we as educators role model best practice in the sustainable sense of the word? It may be interesting to discuss these issues in faculty or staff meetings to investigate how the school core values reflect sustainability.
Gallagher, K. (2021, August 1). What Is Greenwashing? Definition and Examples (E. MacLennan, Ed.). Treehugger: Sustainability for All. Retrieved January 16, 2024, from https://www.treehugger.com/what-is-greenwashing-definition-and-examples-5188207
Martinko, K. (2022, December 15). GOTS Is a certification that actually tackles textile greenwashing (H. Mast, Ed.). Treehugger Sustainability for All. Retrieved January 16, 2024, from https://www.treehugger.com/gots-textile-certification-standard-interview-6890808
Ogilvy, L. (2024, January 15). [Personal interview by the author].
Poynting, M. (2023, October 25). What is cop28 in dubai and why is it important? BBC. Retrieved January 16, 2024, from https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-67143989Vartan, S. V. (2022, August 16). The Treehugger guide to sustainable certifications: A handy visual guide to the world of eco-friendly seals and logos. Treehugger: Sustainability for All. Retrieved January 16, 2024, from https://www.treehugger.com/the-treehugger-guide-to-sustainable-certifications-5119483#toc-why-trust-treehugger.
You may also be interested in reading more articles written by Harbord & Khan for Intrepid Ed News.