What is greenwashing? Climate activists stage Science Museum protest

Climate activists have held a vigil outside London’s Science Museum to protest a sponsorship deal with a fossil fuel company.

About 30 protesters from the UK Student Climate Network (UKSCN) slept in the museum overnight to draw attention to a recent association with the Adani Group, which is interested in coal mining.

A new gallery funded by a subsidiary of the Adani Group – called Energy Revolution: The Adani Green Energy Gallery – is slated to open in 2023. The fossil giant Shell has meanwhile financed the museum’s exhibition Our Future Planet.

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The protest again draws attention to the issue of “greenwashing,” which activists say obscures the role of fossil fuel companies in the climate crisis.

What is greenwashing?

Greenwashing is the effort by companies, governments and other organizations to present themselves as more environmentally friendly than they are.

Fossil fuel companies in particular may be trying to rename themselves to make people think they are more radically committed to reducing carbon emissions than they actually have.

This can, for example, consist in organizing advertising and PR campaigns that draw attention to small environmental initiatives in order to give an exaggerated impression of their importance.

Companies may also sponsor art programs or museum exhibitions to gain green credibility while continuing to mine and burn fossil fuels.

Why is greenwashing considered unethical?

Activists argue that greenwashing is essentially a reputational laundering method that allows fossil fuel companies to distract from the environmental damage they are wreaking.

Not only can this create a misleading impression on ordinary people and potentially lull them into a false sense of security, but it can also endanger other institutions that are being misused for greenwashing.

For example, when Shell sponsored the science museum’s Our Future Planet exhibit, the deal included a toggle clause that forbade the museum from saying anything that could damage Shell’s reputation.

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