Veganism As A Method Of Greenwashing

Veganism As A Method Of Greenwashing

0 0
Read Time:7 Minute, 15 Second

Greenwashing is a practice where companies use vague advertising, non-credible certifications, or other methods to implicitly or explicitly communicate to consumers that their products are sustainable. This can also include deliberate falsification of data or using methods to artificially pass emissions tests in order to make the product seem more sustainable than it really is.

Types of Greenwashing

In general, greenwashing can be done in multiple ways, including (but not limited to):

  • Using greenery, trees, and wildlife in advertising
  • Using vague buzzwords such as “natural” or “eco-friendly”, without reputable certifications to back up these ideas
  • Highlighting certain sustainable practices they engage in, neglecting to mention the non-sustainable practices that may make up a lot of their process

It is important to look carefully at packaging and check for reputable certifications. Ecolabels should be from an independent third-party organization, rather than being “self-certified”, given to a product by the company that made it. 

The Use of “Vegan” Labels as a Method of Greenwashing

Striving for a more plant-based diet has been shown to be more environmentally friendly than including meat in one’s diet, in terms of carbon emissions, water use, and other factors involved in the production of meat for consumption. While it may not be easy to follow a strict vegan diet, many people worldwide are slowly making their diets more plant-based, with a lower emphasis on meat and more consumption of legumes and tofu as a source of protein. These shifts are made for a variety of reasons, from animal rights activism to environmental impact. In terms of environmental impact, vegan diets have 75% less carbon emissions, water pollution, and land use, compared to diets that include over 100g of meat (Carrington, 2023). When comparing specific foods, pork is considered to be the meat with the lowest climate impact, but it still contributes 8x more climate damage compared to the plant-based food with the highest climate impact, which is oilseed (Carrington, 2023). Due to the comparably lower carbon footprint of vegan or plant-based diets, the public image of veganism implies health as well as sustainability, even if factually this is not always accurate. In the context of greenwashing, this can mean that if products are labelled “vegan”, people will assume it’s more environmentally sustainable than products that don’t have these labels.

Vegan Leather

Leather is a material made from the skin of animals, typically cattle, but it can also be made from sheep, goat, or pig skin. These animals are usually not raised solely for leather production, rather they are raised for food and the leather is harvested as somewhat of a byproduct. Animal leather is essentially considered a “co-product” of the meat industry (Scott-Reid, 2023), as it generates a substantial amount of profit on its own, rather than just being a way to use up the skins of the animals. While animal agriculture is responsible for at least 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions, animal leather production is directly tied to the Amazon rainforest destruction. Leather production makes up more than 25% of the value of the Brazilian cattle trade, and is the most valuable part of that region’s cattle industry (Scott-Reid, 2023).

Vegan leather is a key example of the use of veganism in greenwashing. It is implied that vegan leather has a better impact on the environment, or at least on animals, as it doesn’t use real cowskin. In fact, these vegan leather companies use some of the classic greenwashing strategies mentioned above, such as bragging about reduced water use without acknowledging the company’s chemical pollution impact. In many instances, vegan leather is a rebranding of “pleather”, or plastic leather, which is typically made of polyurethane (PU) and polyvinyl chloride (PVC), which are two types of plastics. This was invented not for environmental sustainability purposes, but just to get a similar appearance and similar use as leather at a reduced cost and without the use of animals. This was originally made due to the rationing of genuine leather in Germany during the war, and this version was made by layering and treating paper pulp, although it did not hold up well under high moisture conditions.

Several types of leather have been developed more recently that use plant materials rather than being primarily made of plastics. These can include mushrooms, pineapple leaves, walnuts, or other materials. In the context of sustainability, PU plastics are not traditionally easy to recycle or biodegrade. In contrast, cork leather is made from the bark of cork trees, and is harvested infrequently from living cork trees, without cutting down the tree. This leather is completely biodegradable and works well as an alternative to animal leather or plastic-based leather. This is just one example of an environmentally friendly method of making leather, but there are many different materials that are sustainably harvested and biodegradable. Typical downsides of these sustainable forms of vegan leather include increased cost and decreased durability compared with PU-based leather.

Greenwashing Scandals

There have been a few well-known instances where major companies have been exposed for making false claims about their products or using misleading advertising. Here are some of the top five instances of false claims or exaggerations of sustainability in well-known companies.

  1. Volkswagen: In 2015 it was revealed that the car company Volkswagen added software that gave false readings in emissions tests. This was uncovered when road tests found that the cars emitted 40 times more emissions than permissible by law. In some of VW’s advertising before this falsification, they even advertised the cars as being “clean” (Plungis, 2015).
  2. Beyond Petroleum: This large gas station company added solar panels to their gas stations and changed their name from “BP” to “Beyond Petroleum”. Despite this outward implication of sustainability, 96% of their annual spending continued to go toward oil and gas. Because of this, ClientEarth, an environmental group, lodged a complaint against them.
  3. ExxonMobil: This oil company’s 2025 emission reduction targets do not include most of the emissions resulting from their products, which gives a false impression that they are more sustainable than they are in reality.
  4. Nestlé: This food and beverage company publicly stated that they aim to have 100% recyclable or reusable packaging by 2025. Despite this claim, they remain some of the world’s top plastic polluters, and it has been suggested that this is an example of greenwashing.
  5. Coca-Cola: In June 2021, a lawsuit was filed against this company for falsely advertising sustainability, despite being ranked as the world’s top plastic polluter.

Conclusion

The Ecolabel index provides a list of credible green certifications that are backed up by third-party companies. These certifications can be trusted to indicate sustainable products, at least in the areas that each certification covers. It is important to read labels carefully and be aware of potential greenwashing, as it is commonly used to convince consumers to buy their product over other companies, when there may not be a significant difference in environmental impact between the two companies.

References

Carrington, D. (2023, July 21). Vegan diet massively cuts environmental damage, study shows. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2023/jul/20/vegan-diet-cuts-environmental-damage-climate-heating-emissions-study

Jackson, B. (2024, February 23). Exposing the truth behind greenwashing in the “Vegan leather” industry. Is It Leather? https://isitleather.com/blog/truth-or-greenwashing-investigating-eco-friendly-claims/

Nick. (2023, March 17). What is leather made of and where does it come from? Leather Naturally. https://www.leathernaturally.org/news-events/news/what-is-leather-made-of-and-where-does-it-come-from/

Plungis, J. (2015, September 25). Volkswagen emissions scandal: Forty years of greenwashing – the well-travelled road taken by VW | The Independent. The Independent. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/analysis-and-features/volkswagen-emissions-scandal-forty-years-of-greenwashing-the-welltravelled-road-taken-by-vw-10516209.html

Robinson, D. (2024, May 30). 10 companies called out for greenwashing | Earth.Org. Earth.Org. https://earth.org/greenwashing-companies-corporations/

Scott-Reid, J. (2023, December 11). Vegan leather: What is it made from and is it good for the planet? Sentient. https://sentientmedia.org/what-is-vegan-leather/

Sewport. (2019, June 12). What is Faux Leather Fabric: Properties, How its Made and Where. Sewport. https://sewport.com/fabrics-directory/faux-leather-fabric

Van Der Ven, H. (2022, September 22). What’s in a label? Separating credible eco-labels from “greenwash.” Corporate Knights. https://www.corporateknights.com/perspectives/guest-comment/whats-label-separating-credible-ecolabels-greenwash/

What is greenwashing? (2024, March 26). https://www.nrdc.org/stories/what-greenwashing

About Post Author

Aliyah Knetsch

Aliyah is a fourth year BSc Psychology student at the University of Waterloo, and she is a Research Assistant with EnvironFocus.
Happy
Happy
0 %
Sad
Sad
0 %
Excited
Excited
0 %
Sleepy
Sleepy
0 %
Angry
Angry
0 %
Surprise
Surprise
0 %

Average Rating

5 Star
0%
4 Star
0%
3 Star
0%
2 Star
0%
1 Star
0%

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *