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Carbon neutrality, the best greenwashing?

Let us tell you a little story. Meet Leo and Ava. Ava just fell on the floor and hurt her knee. She's crying. Obviously, Leo understands that it's up to him to play, he has to help Ava. So he does what he has been taught since childhood. He fetches a bandage and disinfectant to clean the wound. He puts the bandage on Ava's elbow and tadam the problem is solved. Except nothing has changed for Ava. - “ And yes Leo, to treat a knee, a bandage on the elbow does not change anything” Ava tells him . 

If you haven't made the connection yet, we give you a hint: Leo could be called “carbon neutral” in this story.


What is carbon neutrality?

According to ADEME, it is the fact of “sequestering as much carbon as we emit, so as to stabilize its level of concentration in the atmosphere and thus limit the increase in the global temperature of the planet”. By misuse of language we speak of carbon but it is actually the quantity of CO2 that we take into account in the official calculations because the other polluting gases, such as methane, are much more complicated to quantify and do not have as much short-term impact.

Be careful not to confuse carbon neutrality with “zero emissions” goals. As its name suggests, a zero emissions goal does not emit carbon (or CO2 precisely), where carbon neutrality will try to compensate for emissions already made.


What is greenwashing?

Answer A : An extremely trendy practice among companies around the world

Answer B : an advertising message that may mislead the public about the real ecological quality of a product

Answer C : a bad habit that causes consumers to lose trust in companies (including those who are not guilty of it)

Answer D : A, B and C

We leave you a few moments….

Well, you probably got the answer right, it was answer D.

Indeed for several years, for many companies, when we talk about ecology, it is no longer really a question of saving our planet but above all of marketing and a very lucrative commercial argument. And yes, a little kraft paper here, a little eco-label there and your product has just sold for 50 cents more.

Bonus: you didn't even have to change it.

And the best part is that this practice is so common that last year a competition for the worst greenwashing campaigns was organized by the collective Pour un Réveil Écologique . We present to you the big winner of the 2021 edition - congratulations to Toyota...


Toyota Ad "The harder you drive, the cleaner the air"

To go further , we offer you this very complete guide written by ADEME (Agency for the Environment and Energy Management): Anti Greenwashing Guide


Is greenwashing legal?

Long story short, no it's not legal.

Long story short, no, it's not legal, but it hasn't been for a long time and the legislation that governs it is still in its infancy.

And yes, knowing that 72% of French people would be in favor of responsible consumption , the government could not let greenwashing tarnish the only subject on which an overwhelming majority agrees to go in the same direction - it's so rare at the same time time to see French people who agree...

Logo Climate and Resilience Law

This is why since August 22, the Climate and Resilience law has introduced numerous restrictions on advertising. This law is the direct result of the Citizen's Convention for the Climate and does not only talk about greenwashing, it fights globally against climate change by putting various and varied actions in place in our daily lives.

With regard to greenwashing, articles 4 and 10 of the law make it a "misleading commercial practice" which will henceforth be punished by a fine of up to 80% of the expenses incurred in the greenwashing campaign and above all by the obligation to communicate on the sanction and the reasons for the sanction. This last part is essential. Because many companies have more interest, financially, to pay the fine than not to campaign. And once launched, the campaign will surely have a beneficial impact on sales that the fine for greenwashing cannot offset.

Ad BNP Greenwashing

Take the example of this BNP campaign relayed by Bon Pote on January 26 on twitter.

“If your bank is funding Arctic drilling then so are you”

Coming from one of the most polluting banks in terms of the amount of fossil fuel projects they finance, you could say that the hospital doesn't give a damn about charity. But you see, they stopped funding a micro part of these projects in the Arctic so the opportunity was perfect. Might as well make it a 10/12m ad.

Even though they were flagged on the networks - and they apologized - hundreds of people saw this huge poster and believed it. Most will probably never realize the deception. In the end, it's all good for the BNP.


Is carbon neutrality greenwashing?

Again, yes and no. You will find activists of both answers but after much research, here is what we understood:

Carbon neutrality is not the solution to reducing CO2 emissions. As stated above, aiming for carbon neutrality does not reduce the amount of carbon we emit. We compensate it. A bit like when you do a big workout after a big meal hoping to cancel the calories. Sport won't hurt, but it won't erase the reblochon veggie burger and homemade fries.

Except that in the case of carbon neutrality, the side effects are much more serious than a few aches. There is currently no technology capable of “sucking up” the carbon or destroying it completely.

Today to achieve neutrality, companies go through 5 means:

  • Buying rights to pollute on the financial carbon market.
  • Buy plots of forest that they “protect” from deforestation or plant trees .
  • Inject the recovered CO2 into the air or in the factories directly to inject it underground - yes, yes you read that right, even with the carbon we continue to hide it under the bed to avoid cleaning
  • Fertilize the oceans with algae so they suck up even more Co2 than they already do.
  • Invest in projects around ecological and energy transition and the development of more sustainable technologies.

To a certain extent, all these solutions bring something rather positive.

The financial carbon market makes it possible, in theory, to limit the capacity of companies in a country to pollute because once the rights to pollute are in limited quantity on the market, once the stock has been exhausted over a determined period, we cannot can pollute more without paying heavy fines - I repeat myself, in theory

But the market is not the only answer to green its pollution, the 4 other “solutions” can also reduce the figures.

Investing is a good way of not trying too hard to change things. The legislation around “ green projects ” is still very weak so it is quite difficult to estimate the quantity of projects that really help and that will have made it possible to reduce the quantity of carbon in our air.

As for more tangible solutions like planting trees or fertilizing our ocean, well Ava explained it very well. An elbow and a knee are two very different things.

Apart from the geographical gap between the polluted place and the place of compensation, despite their best efforts, the trees or the oceans cannot consume all the carbon emitted. It is simply impossible.

To give you an idea, to offset the carbon footprint of all French people with our forests, we would need 24 billion trees (or 24 million hectares of dense forest). Roughly, 38% of France would be covered only with trees. On a global scale, this would not be possible because not all climates and different biodiversities can support forests.

And it's not for lack of trying. In the United States, some companies have planted hundreds of trees (if not thousands) to decarbonize their emissions. However, they did not think of choosing local species, or calling on an agroforestry service that would be able to manage the forest sustainably. Instead, literally fields of trees have been planted. These “false forests” destroy local biodiversity by preventing nature from doing its job and do not allow species to find everything they need to survive.

Greenpeace Instagram post

 Source: Greenpeace Instagram

Finally, I don't need to explain to you why injecting CO2 into our basements is not a sustainable solution. In addition to increasing the frequency and strength of earthquakes and other seismic events, our basements are not Hermione Granger's suitcases and are as limited in size as our surface area.

In short, it's all very complicated. What we have to conclude is that changing our consumption and our production to first reduce and not offset CO2 emissions should be our number 1 objective. This is our real solution.

For example, at Oé, to reduce our emissions and our impact in general, we are increasingly moving towards zero waste logistics and we have put the deposit back in place. These kinds of changes are not simple or easy to organize but they really make a difference.

We encourage you to learn a little more about the different greenwashing practices and in particular those related to carbon neutrality because we will see more and more of them in the coming years.

For more details on the different carbon storage solutions and their dangers, here is an article from Youmatter.world which explains things very simply: Youmatter.world



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