How industries are taking advantage of social media to “go green”

How industries are taking advantage of social media to “go green”

The Greenpeace organization recommends banning advertisements for fossil fuels, like what was done for tobacco.

An image showing a plane half-turned into a shark, hashtags deceptively evoking clean energy, or images of nature being abusively bombarded… a new report by researchers at Harvard University published on Tuesday September 20 highlights the many practices companies to “green” themselves (“green washing”) on social networks.

The survey, commissioned by environmental organization Greenpeace, analyzed text and images from more than 2,300 publications in June and July this year. These came from about twenty European companies, including the largest car manufacturers, airlines, and oil and gas companies.

“This summer, when Europe was experiencing record temperatures and fires”, these companies “remained silent on climate change, and proceeded to what we interpret as brand positioning”, explained to AFP the main author of this work, Geoffrey Supran. Entitled “Fifty Shades of Green (washing)”, the report shows that one in five of these companies relayed messages about sporting events or social causes, rather than showing what they were selling.

“Redirecting responsibility” onto individual behaviors

Other examples: on Instagram, a Lufthansa plane mixing with the body of a shark in the ocean – to highlight a material that mimics the skin of the animal, and used to improve aerodynamics. On Twitter, Lufthansa and Air France used the hashtag #SustainableAviationFuel (sustainable fuel for aircraft, in French). Without mentioning that such a fuel, with the impact debated by experts, concerns only a small part of the total used by the industry, notes the report.

A post from Wizz Air for World Environment Day showed an elderly black woman, half a tree, standing in a lush forest… to promote an article on how to lower her personal energy consumption. A common practice to “redirect responsibility” on individual behaviors, rather than governments or industry, according to the report. On YouTube, a video from car manufacturer Fiat showed a group of young people criss-crossing the roads of magnificent mountains.

Researchers “observed strong affective responses from consumers when faced with images of nature”explained Geoffrey Supran. “It can suggest a company is greener than it appears, in a subtle way that can fool even the most critical observers.” According to Silvia Pastorelli, of Greenpeace, this report deciphers “a systematic greenwashing effort, to be fought by a legal ban on fossil fuel advertising or sponsorship across Europe, just like what has been done with tobacco”.


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