Innocent Drinks: saving the planet or just greenwashing?
Aran Grover discusses the virtue-signalling of greenwashing.
For those unaware, the term greenwashing refers to a form of marketing consisting of empty promises which suggest that a company or organization is actively working towards achieving greater sustainability. It is another form of virtue signalling, with which I’m sure we’re all familiar. For example, the recent lighting up of Downing Street in the Ukrainian blue and yellow in an attempt to inspire some sympathy for those affected by the war in Ukraine has felt, for some, an entirely empty gesture, as the UK has some of the tightest laws on accepting refugees from Ukraine.
The smoothie company Innocent were accused of greenwashing as a result of an advert encouraging consumers to “get fixing up the planet” by buying Innocent products. The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) stated this was “misleading”.
While it was found that Innocent were carrying out several actions in attempt to reduce their negative impact on the environment, including “a commitment to being carbon neutral by 2030 and an aim to recycle 70 percent of their bottles by 2023”, it was decided that this “did not demonstrate that their products had a net positive environmental impact over their full lifecycles”.
The greenwashing here is a lie: you will not save the planet by purchasing an Innocent smoothie.
Innocent are also owned by Coca-Cola, who are consistently ranked as the world’s top plastic polluter, further demonstrative of the emptiness of their claims.
However, Innocent, “disappointed” in the decision of the ASA, claimed that the criticisms “could strife other brands and manufacturers from taking steps towards and communicating positive environmental actions they were taking”.
While this may be the case, and is perhaps a valid criticism of the ASA, the language used in Innocent’s advert, urging consumers to “get fixing up the planet” is problematic in a number of ways. The blatant hypocrisy of the company, a subsidiary of the biggest plastic polluter in the world, completely undercuts any claims of righteousness; while they beg us to use their products to fulfil a moral duty to work towards a solution, they are knowingly part of the problem. This also places responsibility on the consumer to ‘make the right choice’ as it were, exempting them from any blame, as if to say, ‘I’ve done my bit’, even though they haven’t come close.
Essentially, Innocent argue that the importance of their spreading of awareness overshadows the dubious legitimacy of their claims as an environmentally friendly company, and we can conclude that this simply isn’t the case. The greenwashing here is a lie: you will not save the planet by purchasing an Innocent smoothie.
Greenwashing then falls into a category of gesture-politics favoured by those privileged enough not to care, attempting to exempt them from actual activism. We must remain vigilant however, to see through acts of virtue-signalling, especially Greenwashing, because issues of pollution are almost entirely out of our hands to change, and require institutions to act, rather than to speak.