Greenwashing and Carbon-Offsetting, how the Market deceives us all

By Sally Campbell

Tesco has been selling Brazilian meat despite promising not to, campaigners have discovered. In an effort to position itself as a climate leader, the supermarket giant said it had banned the sale of meat from the country because of concerns over deforestation in the Amazon, which has been largely driven by the beef and soya industries. Tesco said it had made a “genuine error” and that the chicken in question came from a “small, branded supplier” who was rectifying the situation.

So, what about Brazilian meat products? David Gelles wrote in The New York Times (28 September 2023) about the list of companies that have a meaningful impact on global greenhouse gas emissions; dominated by oil and gas producers, we know about Exxon, Shell, Chevron and BP. But there is another company that belongs in that conversation: JBS, the world’s largest meat producer, which has annual revenues of more than $50 billion. (The name comes from the initials of its founder, José Batista Sobrinho.)

With operations around the globe and a supply chain that reaches deep into ecologically sensitive areas like the Amazon rainforest, JBS is responsible for significant carbon dioxide and methane emissions. One study by DeSmog (April 2022) at Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy states that the World’s largest meat company, JBS, increased emissions by 51% in five years despite 2040 net zero climate target, continues to greenwash its huge climate footprint. The research found that JBS produces more emissions each year than all of Italy..

JBS is already publicly traded in Brazil, where it is based. Now it is seeking a listing on the New York Stock Exchange, a move that would give JBS expanded access to capital, which it could use to get even bigger. The United States is its largest market. Environmental activists are trying to block the listing. Last month, Rainforest Action Network, Mighty Earth and World Animal Protection sent letters to the Securities and Exchange Commission detailing what they say is the company’s shoddy environmental record and a litany of dubious corporate governance practices.

Researchers say that as much as 90 percent of deforestation in the Amazon rainforest is linked to the cattle industry. Tropical deforestation for meat production is a double whammy for the climate, replacing biodiverse carbon sinks with clear-cut land full of methane-belching bovines. JBS is one of the biggest consumers of cattle raised on newly deforested land. In 2021, an audit led by prosecutors in the Brazilian state of Pará, home to the second-largest cattle herd in the Amazon, found that JBS had bought 301,000 animals, amounting to 32 percent of its purchases in the state, between January 2018 and June 2019 from farms that had violated commitments to prevent illegal deforestation.

So why is Tesco buying meat from Brazil?…cheaper than UK grown meat. Ignoring the damage to the environment and believing, conveniently, the green-wash about environment and carbon emissions reality. Mighty Earth, a global campaigning organisation, has accused Tesco of greenwashing and asked the Competition and Markets Authority to investigate whether it has misled consumers and broken the watchdog’s green claims code. So consumers need to buy reasonably priced British produced meat. When you buy products with the Red Tractor logo, you can be more confident that you are buying British produce. Many of us may be trying to eat less meat, but what we do eat make sure it is produced in the UK, and preferably with less food miles, reared in Scotland!

 

The Impacts of Carbon-Offset Projects around the world. I have written about this before, in VoiceforArran but an update might be pertinent. Carbon Brief’s guide to the terminology of carbon offsets by Daisy Dunne and Josh Gabbatiss in Sept 2023 sums up as follows:

The past few years have seen an explosion in major economies and businesses seeking to cancel out their polluting activities by paying for emissions to be reduced elsewhere – a practice known as “carbon-offsetting”. The surging demand has given rise to a largely unregulated industry where businesses and countries can pay brokers to cut emissions somewhere else in the world. This is often achieved through forest-protection schemes, which are meant to reduce emissions by preventing deforestation – as well as other methods, such as tree-planting and distributing low-carbon cookstoves in the developing world.

Investigations into individual carbon-offset projects by journalists and non-governmental organisations have revealed that many of the schemes can come with devastating impacts for Indigenous peoples and local communities. Reporting has also found that many schemes overstate their ability to reduce emissions.

By trawling through original media reports published over the past five years and scanning the world’s most comprehensive environmental conflicts database, Carbon Brief draws these stories together for the first time to create a detailed picture of the breadth and scale of the impacts of carbon-offset projects around the world. Some 70% of the reports examined by Carbon Brief found evidence of carbon-offset projects causing harm to Indigenous people and local communities.

Indigenous peoples have been forcibly removed from their land because of carbon-offsetting in the Republic of the Congo (often referred to as Congo-Brazzaville) and Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the Brazilian, Colombian and Peruvian Amazon, Kenya, Malaysia and Indonesia, according to reports analysed by Carbon Brief. Cases include one where Indigenous people were allegedly threatened with guns and another where a publication accused a carbon-offset developer of planting on top of the graves of Indigenous peoples. Nearly half of the reports examined by Carbon Brief found evidence of carbon-offset projects overstating their ability to reduce emissions. This includes accusations of fossil-fuel companies knowingly using tactics to inflate the offsetting potential of their projects and one alleged case of a California carbon-offset company selling to polluters even after the trees in its forest protection scheme had been burnt down by a wildfire.

Charles Martin Co-Founder of The Anti-Greenwash Charter wrote: “Every day our news alerts bring details of companies accused of greenwashing. And, at the same rate, stories about the need for tighter legislation on this important subject come in. But nothing is changing. We have been waiting and waiting for someone to act, to bring in some clarity for organisations who are concerned about the reputational risks from accusations of greenwashing. So, we took action ourselves and set up The Anti-Greenwash Charter. To give organisations the opportunity to set out their claims and verification processes clearly so that their responsible marketing practices can protect reputations and support customers in making informed choices. Greenwashing – overstating environmental claims for marketing appeal – not only misleads consumers but also erodes industry-wide trust. As a result, proactive organisations must look for ways to be more transparent, accountable, fair, and honest when highlighting their green initiatives.”

This campaigning group would love you to join their signatories, be clear on your claims and pledge your support to stamping out greenwashing.” See The Anti-Greenwash Charter For a Truly Sustainable Future https://antigreenwashcharter.com

Sally Campbell
September 2023

Featured image accessed at edtimes.in