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Truly “Green” or “Greenwashed”?

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    Activists demonstrate in Frankfurt, Germany. They say the EU is “greenwashing” nuclear energy and natural gas. (Arne Dedert/picture-alliance/dpa/AP)
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    A KLM airplane approaches for landing in Lisbon, Portugal. Environmental groups are suing the airline over alleged greenwashing and misleading customers. (AP/Armando Franca)
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    European lawmakers vote to include natural gas and nuclear energy as sustainable energy sources. (AP/Jean-Francois Badias)
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    Activists demonstrate outside the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France. (AP/Jean-Francois Badias)
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European Union lawmakers voted in July to include natural gas and nuclear power in the bloc’s list of sustainable energy sources. Previously, those energies were excluded. That’s due to the means of harvesting them and the waste products associated with them. Some EU legislators from environment and economy committees objected to the change in plan. They say the energies aren’t truly ecologically friendly. Calling them “sustainable” to make them acceptable amounts to “greenwashing.”

Despite the objection, the EU needs energy to operate at modern standards of living and production. Sources already considered “green”—solar, wind, hydroelectric, and so on—aren’t keeping up with demand.

Greenwashing is a fairly new term. It refers to portraying processes and products as more environmentally friendly than they actually are. Sometimes businesses resort to greenwashing to increase sales. They hope to grow a customer base by appealing to a sense of stewardship and modern virtues. But in reality, the provider may have little actual concern for the environment. Some fear the EU’s energy labeling vote could set a precedent. It may allow greenwashing—changing terminology to appear to support environmental goals—to happen more easily. And that may lead to legal issues.

One Dutch airline, KLM, is feeling the effects of alleged greenwashing. That business faces a lawsuit over its “Fly Responsibly” advertising campaign, launched in December 2021. Environmental groups took action against the aviation giant earlier this year. They say the airline misled consumers. Its ads promoted its “carbon offset program.” But KLM didn’t actually change practices to help preserve the environment. In fact, the growth it projects from the campaign may produce more pollution.

“The lawsuit will argue that these claims are highly misleading,” lawyers from complainant ClientEarth said in a statement. The charge goes on to explain that “KLM’s plan for continual increases in flying is at odds with the rapid and deep emissions reductions” that a United Nations panel recommends. Without reductions, the airline cannot truthfully claim to be a “more responsible” option for ecologically minded consumers.

KLM is just one company that has claimed to be more environmentally friendly than the facts support. Some companies do put real effort into wise use of resources and energy. But greenwashing is becoming a readily marketable theme in business.

As consumers, it’s important to be aware of what we’re consuming. As Christ-followers, it’s important to remember that we’re to take care of the Earth, even while we utilize the resources we are blessed with. That includes all forms of energy, provided for life and moving God’s creation forward in ways that bless others.

Why? Words matter, and consumers should be aware of how businesses and governments might use words deceptively in order to push policy and profits.