What is sustainability? By my definition, sustainability is preserving nature today so that future generations will have the same resources and privileges we enjoy today. According to Merriam-Webster, to be sustainable means “able to be used without being completely used up or destroyed.” The meaning of sustainability has become more and more vague, as individuals and organizations use this catch-all phrase to “prove” that they are environmentally minded.
“Greenwashing” is a term that is used to describe this use of “green” terminology that is overplayed or exaggerated by entities seeking to appear sustainable for PR purposes. This is not to say that capitalism and ecology are incompatible; in fact, there is a promising future in “eco-capitalism”, the combining of these ideologies. But it is important to recognize when “greenwashing” is being used to overplay the sustainability of an entity:
Recently, the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (GRSB) announced that it will be making a transition to “sustainable” beef in 2016. The GRSB includes restaurant giants such as McDonald’s, Olive Garden, Wal-Mart, and Sam’s Club. Sounds good, right? Not so fast – a brief scan of the GRSB’s policies reveals that the GRSB does not provide a definition of sustainability that would hold them accountable for their actions.
This may be a step in the theoretical right direction, but it is important to recognize that these corporations are only sustainable in outward appearance. The thinly veiled greenwashing going on here should be called out for what it is – a marketing ploy.
For more information on the GRSB’s policies on sustainability, use of antibiotics, and more, check out these articles:
“McDonald’s Definition of “Sustainable”: Brought to You by the Beef Industry”
“Draft Principles & Criteria for Global Sustainable Beef”