by Sam Killmeyer

Greenwashing, green sheen, or green marketing are marketing ploys designed to get environmentally conscious consumers to purchase a product by creating the impression they are “green” rather than changing their business practices to be more sustainable.

(Learn more about greenwashing here:

Insidiously, some companies also use greenwashing to conceal or distract from business practices that are actively destroying our planet, poisoning our water supply, and hurting vulnerable populations.

For example, oil and gas companies are our worst polluters and are profiting the most from environmentally destructive practices. Extraction Oil & Gas, a Denver-based fracking company, fits that bill, yet they portray themselves as “green” on their Environment and Safety page.

Instead of working to make fracking technology safer or greener, we need to be focused on ending the creation of new wells and transitioning to renewable energy – we need to create real, lasting change.

Greenwashing tells us that climate change is our fault

Perhaps the most insidious effect of greenwashing is that it can make us believe that our small-scale, consumer-driven changes are enough. When in reality they do very little to decrease our carbon footprint, let alone put a dent in global emissions. 

Greenwashing tells us that climate change is our fault and that we can solve it by shopping more responsibly. But the problem isn’t your consumer choices, it’s the corporations that produce billions of straws, it’s the oil and gas who profit from our continued dependence on plastics, and it’s the lack of environmental regulations to hold these corporations accountable. According to the Carbon Majors Report from 2017, only 100 companies are responsible for 71% of global climate emissions, creating nearly 1 trillion tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions.

More than half of global industrial emission since 1988 can be traced to 25 corporate and state-owned entities.

These are the people who are destroying our planet and these are the people who need to change their ways. ExxonMobil, Shell, BP, and Chevron need to be as concerned as you are about climate change. We need to force them — through activism and policy — to change.

And there are effective, large-scale ways to combat the massive problem of single-use plastic, like plastic straw bans in California, Washington, DC, Seattle, and other cities across the country. In fact, California plans to phase out all single-use plastics by 2030. We need to use the energy and anger that we have about this waste and channel it into policies that pressure corporations into designing effective, sustainable solutions.

What can I do?

Continue to educate yourself and those around you! Point out moments of greenwashing and discuss how it’s working and what it’s trying to achieve. Use that knowledge to be a more critical consumer in what you buy, the media you engage with, and the politicians and policies you support. 

Give yourself a break and acknowledge that you can’t save the planet by your own small choices. It may seem depressing, but when you acknowledge this fact, you can join with others to push for large-scale change. Do what you need to do to feel better, but don’t waste energy agonizing over the environmental implications of every decision or purchase you make. Try not to fall into the trap of believing that there are simple solutions (like shopping green products) to complex problems.

Know that you’re more powerful than you think. Transfer your energy into supporting local, national, and global organizations fighting climate change — like 350 Colorado. If you want to take political action, learn more about climate policies in your area and how you can support environmental regulations. You can also work to educate others in your personal life. 

Stand up to the fossil fuel companies here in Colorado, like Extraction Oil & Gas. Support a Green New Deal. Remember that knowledge of systems is the foundation upon which real change is built. And continue to remind yourself that there’s a lot we’re fighting for!