Green trolling: unmasking green washing from oil to fashion
Some time ago I came across an Instagram profile with a series of curious posts: screenshots of messages from large companies, mainly in the oil sector but not limited to, which touched on the theme of sustainability, followed by comments of green trolls. A roundup of funny and pungent reactions to attempts to communicate green actions. Investigating more, I discovered that this way of bringing green washing to the surface and sending it back directly to the sender is called green trolling (we have written here on how to identify green washing).
While “trolling” is annoying, being a pest, disturbing and sometimes harmful bullying on the internet, the green version is actually a justified reaction of those who with a comment want to prevent companies with a known significant environmental and/or social impact from saying theirs on climate change and sustainability. A sharp and clear comment to unmask the hypocrisy and inconsistency of some giants who carelessly talk about sustainability, before having achieved significant concrete results, addressing a world of increasingly attentive and informed listeners. In this race to show a green side that is not yet consolidated or worse yet not even introduced, companies, brands and even small businesses are increasingly throwing themselves into the communication of messages in which “eco, sustainable, green, environmentally friendly” flock, etc. .
I have the feeling that in order to arrive before others to attract an audience, seen as a market segment to be reached, they take words lightly, riding the green wave with embarrassment and sooner or later finding themselves in a trouble. As happened to Eni, sanctioned by the Competition and Market Authority on January 15, 2020 with a 5 million euro fine for the dissemination of misleading advertising messages: the first Italian sentence against greenwashing. Sustainability communication is a topic that is very close to our heart, to the point of dedicating a part of the project to helping companies and brands to do it in the most appropriate way.
Mary Annaise Heglar, co-creator and co-host of the Hot Take podcast, is a determined and persistent green troller. She is not the first to express opposition to an oil company, but she is the first to ask aloud and constantly to support her in this form of targeted activism. For Heglar it is a way to let off steam linked to a deeper motivation: to try to crumble the idea of oil groups of being heroes of the environment and to highlight the ways in which they place the blame on individuals, to avoid responsibility for their role in the climatic crisis (source: Grist). It all started with a tweet from BP encouraging people to calculate their individual carbon footprint. Heglar, an expert in fossil fuel industry strategies to deflect the blame for the climate crisis, tried to report the tweet but she failed, so she decided to answer the company’s question directly.
It didn’t go better to Shell. To engage users, the company posted a small survey on itsTwitter account: “What are you willing to change to help reduce emissions? #EnergyDebate”, with a variety of options to choose from. Thousands of people responded to the survey, including Greta Thunberg and Alexandria Ocasio Cortez. Shell’s question prompted readers to turn it back to the sender.
Since then, I have been paying attention to corporate communications that stink of green washing. I photograph them and sometimes I answer them, especially in fashion. What do you think, are we also launching green fashion trolling?
How to participate?
- With grace and insight, writing pungent and polite answers
- By placing a link to an article about what the company does contrary to what it claims.
It is a way we have to signal practices that are not socially acceptable or legitimate, pointing out the negative perception that reaches the stakeholders.
Here is a collection of green trolling that we gradually find and update, not only towards oil & gas companies. Tell us the ones you come across and above all you participate in!
Cover photo: from Mystic Art Design