Greenwash – a book by Guy Pearse

November 23, 2012

Now I don’t have to read council business papers and other related material, I have time to read books, from start to finish! So I was very keen to get get my teeth into Guy Pearse‘s latest offering, Greenwash. Whether you have been comforted by Earth Hour or carbon credits or environmentally friendly chocolate, or been sceptical about the genuineness of oil corporations when they say they are going green, then this book is for you.

After an enormous amount of research, the author presents, in a chatty and readable way, a breakdown of how corporations and individuals involved in everything from fashion to freight, banks to beer, pets to petrol, cars to coffee and much more are duping the world into thinking they are leading the way in slowing down climate change. And although the author doesn’t spell it out, the book crystalises just how dangerous and irresponsible it is for corporations and others to engender a false sense of security in literally billions of current and potential consumers.

Would it surprise you to learn that Oprah Winfrey, who has built an audience of over 50 million people in 25 years across 145 countries, has spoken out about climate change and put to together a Global Warming 101 page on her website which shares ideas about how to reduce your carbon footprint? Maybe not. But what you might not know (because it’s not mentioned on her page telling you about hybrid cars, compact fluorescent light bulbs and energy-efficient appliances) is that she has a $46 million private jet about which she commented to an audience of students ‘It’s great to have a private jet. Anyone that tells you that having a private jet isn’t great is lying to you.’ As the author points out, “how seriously can we take exhortations to change light bulbs from someone who sets an example that is anything but climate-friendly? How many efficient light bulbs and clean appliances would it take to bring the carbon footprint of her $50 million, 23,000 square foot mansion in California, with its fourteen bathrooms and ten fireplaces, back to anything remotely normal? … (And) was it really necessary to take 300 people along for the ride (as part of promoting Australia as a tourist destination), … (taking) her own private jet as well as the two Qantas charter planes?”

The behaviour of celebrities who have no small influence on their millions of fans is concerning enough, but what is perhaps more disturbing is the insidious nature of what corporations are doing (or not doing) behind the scenes, compared to what they are telling their customers and the world, as the book uncovers.

All the way through it I wanted there to be mention of the underlying problem – that we all consume too much to sustain the world and if we stopped, so would the problem, so I was pleased to see that this, too, was also accorded some coverage. The practice of greenwashing reminds me of recycling – we have been taught to feel like we are doing our bit by putting out the cans and bottles and paper, having visions of it all going off to a factory somewhere nearby where it can be turned into something useful again. But the sad fact is that there is a lot more material being sent for recycling than the system can handle, therefore much of it ends up in landfill. By consuming less and reusing more we could dramatically reduce what goes to landfill and in parallel, we would end up putting much less CO2 and methane into the atmosphere.

There is a smattering of good news in Greenwash in the form of references to corporations being honest about their small efforts while recognising that is a lot more that they could do, but not nearly enough good news to make us feel that things are OK. This is a very important book which should be read by everyone who cares about the impact our actions have on this fragile planet, as well as by all those who don’t give it much thought. I can imagine that the revelations contained in Greenwash have made a large number of CEOs out there very angry, but if it makes even some of them recognise the role and influence they have in our future and change their approach to business accordingly, Guy Pearse will have done the Earth a great service

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