A sneaky ‘new’ way to greenwash

Sometimes, the little things matter way more than you think


Hey team, and welcome back to one5c. I don’t know about y’all, but for me the second week of the year matters way more than the first. The vacation cobwebs are finally (mostly) outta my noggin, the actual work is happening, and I’m starting to get a real idea of what the year’s gonna look like. 

Obviously, there’s an election looming, and money from the Inflation Reduction Act is really starting to flow, but I’m talking about vibes as much as I am headlines. If 2023 was the year that woke a lot of people up to the reality of the climate crisis, then 2024 is the year of action and accountability. To start us off on that front, Sara Kiley’s back at her greenwash-spotting post with a particularly subversive trick. 

Let us know if you’ve seen this shady business elsewhere. And, as ever, share one5c with someone you know who wants to make a difference. —Corinne

Warmer air, coming down. Michael O’Keene/Shutterstock

Switch your ceiling fan’s spin 

In the chillier months when heating costs spike, a switch on most ceiling fans can help. In the warmer weather, fans spin counterclockwise, and the angle of the blades creates a downward breeze—and the accompanying cooling sensation. Most modern ceiling fans, however, include a toggle to change the direction to a clockwise spin. This reversal draws air from the room upward, which in turn forces the warmer air that hangs out close to the ceiling down. Comfort is subjective, which means it’s hard to pinpoint the exact energy savings of flipping that switch, but every degree you lower the thermostat can cut your bill by 3%.

The power of a streak

Looking for the secret to making your eco resolution stick? May we suggest framing it as a streak. The urge to maintain a streak is a powerful motivator, and recent research shows why. Streaks work because they blend a high-level goal with a low-level activity—essentially breaking what may seem like a gargantuan task into bite-sized pieces. Committing to something you identify as core to your identity (perhaps, say, not buying single-use water bottles because you want to do your part to save the world) also helps fuel unbroken runs.

The toad and the geothermal plant

What is the price of progress? In Nevada, it may be the Dixie Valley toad. The endangered amphibian’s sole habitat is also a major potential source of geothermal power, which the Department of Energy sees as a key piece of hitting the nation’s clean-energy goals. A proposed plant at the site could produce enough power for 44,000 homes and offset 6.5 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions. For Mother Jones, reporter Henry Carnell dives into the thorny intersection of conservation and renewable energy development—and what it all means for the future of clean energy and one lonely toad.

Carbon offsets that actually work

Markets that offer shoppers, businesses, and travelers the chance to zero out their emitting activities by funding conservation and preservation efforts don’t stand up to scrutiny. Juneau, Alaska, however, is seeing success with a novel new offset program. Instead of planting trees, funds from tourists to the far-flung destination go toward buying energy-efficient heat pumps for local residents. These offsets, Grist reports, are pricier than other voluntary offerings, but the initiative’s designers are confident their benefits are demonstrably more tangible than the competition’s. 

Mic-drop climate stat

‘Social washing’ is the new greenwash

Oil company ad making you want to break out the cocoa? Tero Vesalainen/Shutterstock

Increasingly, wishy-washy terms like “eco” and “green” set off alarm bells for savvy consumers and can land a company in murky legal waters, especially if the firm advertises in the E.U. But these kinds of speed bumps never stop marketers from trying, and a different type of greenwashing is on the rise, says Wren Montgomery, professor of sustainability and general management at Canada’s Ivey Business School. This time, advertisers are focusing on all of the social “good” that fossil fuel companies are doing. They’re not claiming to be saving the planet; they’re saving your way of life. Just glance at this warm and fuzzy Chevron ad about how the company fuels “festivities across the country.”  

This social washing of ecological ickiness isn’t limited to fossil fuels companies. Big funders like banks are also taking advantage of the sneaky maneuver, says Montgomery. A prime example: The Royal Bank of Canada, the No. 1 financier of fossil fuel development worldwide, loves to tout its work on bringing hockey to local communities

The tactic also isn’t new—not even for the oil industry. These kinds of ads go way back, says Ben Franta, senior research fellow in climate litigation at the Oxford Sustainable Law Programme. Even famed American artist Norman Rockwell was making wistful images of gas stations in the snow back in 1917. “The implication is, if you didn’t have oil, you wouldn’t have the holiday that you want,” Franta says. A century later, this marketing move is yet another stealthy way to stir up fears that the green energy transition will be expensive and painful. It’s also a handy means to divert attention from the fact that companies like Chevron are the reason that white Christmases are a thing of the past for many of us.