Saturday, July 20, 2024

Environmentalism Wrapped in a Plastic Bag

By Dorothy Wynn Marie Vendiola and Sarah Madison Repollo | November 8, 2023

To turn on a television in the 2000s meant at least a single “Go-Green” commercial or show was to air. Most college students now have lived through this very period wherein Disney’s environmentalist approaches through song were a regular interruption during TV time. A kid could be watching Wizards of Waverly Place, happily imagining their remote is a working wand, until Demi Lovato’s voice pierces through the show, singing about Earth and the need for us to save it. 

Growing up with news of environmental doom, Gen Z youth tend to be overly conscious about their ecological footprint. Despite the TV losing popularity in recent years, social media has picked up where it left off when it comes to “Going Green” promotion. In fact, statistics state that they’re more likely to support sustainable brands than any other generation, as environmentalism increasingly becomes an all-too-familiar concept to them as they’ve heard repeated mantras of “Reduce-Reuse-Recycle,” “Save the Planet,” and whatnot over the years.

           Sillimanians are no exception to this.

Take our imaginary student, “Joe”, for example. Joe is a true red—a literal Sillimanian since preschool days. Joe and the rest of the student population are taught to be environmentally conscious in classes and reminded of it on social media constantly. Meanwhile, manong guard never fails to refuse entry to any kid with plastics in hand. 

Despite this, something called “greenwashing” has grown. Take these scenarios for instance: The campus security guards actively scan students for single-use plastics, so Joe shoves the materials inside his pocket, bringing it inside anyway. Later in the afternoon, he could stop by a food stall to purchase some takeout on the way home. For convenience’s sake, the stall makes use of plastic to hold the multiple orders Joe made, canceling out the recyclable nature of the original packaging. Throughout all this and on the same day, Joe reposts an article urging citizens to go green on Facebook. Joe may be imaginary, but he has some doppelgangers in real life. 

Brands and people alike play the “environmentally friendly” card to avoid backlash. 

 A brief history of greenwashing

         According to Investopedia, “greenwashing is the process of conveying a false impression or misleading information about how a company’s products are environmentally sound.” To appeal to environmentalists and those in search of sustainability, some companies do more than lie. They may shine a light on a very real recyclable product they’ve produced, but omit the environmentally damaging practices they engage in behind the scenes. This behavior even extends beyond large corporations—individuals too can participate in greenwashing. 

While the term itself was coined back in the 1980s, the issue of greenwashing has yet to have reached an end at present. With the advent of technology, brands have seen the earning potential that social media offers. Trendy environmentalism is the new wave, with eco-fads popping out here and there. One notable “eco-friendly” trend that is representative of Gen Z consumers is online shopping.

In-person shopping uses up gas and coughs up carbon emissions, so to the untrained eye, online shopping is seen as the preferable alternative. 

Unfortunately, online shopping, too, has its environmental consequences. Over-packaging to avoid product breakages only adds to waste in landfills, and shipping produces greenhouse gas on higher levels than if you were to just drive your car to a store.

Of course, we can’t fully blame ourselves for our necessary consumption. Countless brands we use, love, and need are guilty of greenwashing like Volkswagen, Coca-Cola, and many more. Establishments’ complete disavowal of their contributions to environmental degradation and their continued usage of green branding is a subterfuge to attract those committed to being eco-friendly. Regulations can simply be bypassed with loopholes, and time and time again, consumers are tricked into hurting the environment. There are few tangible solutions; meanwhile, major establishments continue to profit from their false advertising.

An informed student is a conscious student

It is easy to fall prey to greenwashing. Companies and individuals alike can be very convincing after all. However, it isn’t all doom and gloom just yet, as there have been concrete solutions for corporations to counter greenwashing. 

In August of 2022, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) published the BSP Circular 1149, which discouraged the “dissemination of misleading information, whether intentional or not, regarding a company’s environmental strategies, goals, motivations, and actions that can induce false positive perception of a company’s environmental and social performance.” With an important group pulling a stunt like this, productions of misinformation such as greenwashing have the potential to downturn at a nationwide scale.

As for the campus? Students have access to countless information sources online, making exposing exploitative businesses possible. With the same phone Joe used to participate in greenwashing, with a simple search, he has the power to educate himself and others on this issue. 

The biggest step that the youth can take towards bringing down false environmentalist advertising is through knowledge—especially through the use of social media. The more people know about certain brands’ fraudulent behavior, the less support these companies will get. In the long run, their businesses will be forced to either shut down or think up alternative healthier production methods. It’s time for them to adapt or die out. 

Another way students can combat greenwashing is by adjusting their actions and encouraging others to do so as well. For instance, instead of driving alone to school, they can carpool with friends who lack personal vehicles. This way, they’re helping out the environment and friends simultaneously.

In addition, students can address this issue by changing how they dine. With back-to-back lectures, many opt instead to eat at school. By bringing along reusable containers, utensils, tote bags for storage, and other sustainable materials, the school campus will accumulate less trash in the long run, and the planet will benefit. 

These steps might seem a hassle, but a single piece of plastic can take up to 500 years to decompose. For one small bag, the consequences are near impossible to justify—it’s easy to wonder if the takeout order at the taco stall is truly worth it. 

To be entirely environmentally friendly is a difficult task. While Silliman is actively pushing for this, the real challenge comes with influencing the student body to follow suit. Social media runs the youth, and with consistent calls for help for the environment worldwide, the Gen Z audience will eventually be completely reached. Anything that appears on their feed motivates them to take action, which is why utilizing the internet is the ideal method of reaching a generation that is glued to their cellphones. 

Although our planet has been brutalized time and time again, awareness on the topic of greenwashing and its impacts on environmentalism are the keys to slowly undoing the damage that has been done to Mother Earth. With knowledge, concrete actions always follow—especially if they are actions we can share with other people the best way we know how: via social media. 

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