The Drax Group; A masterclass in how to spot greenwashing.
Corporations perpetuating the climate crisis will do nearly anything to avoid accountability for their crimes against nature and humanity, and their methods are becoming more sophisticated as we go into the future. Through the Drax Group example, you can stay aware and not fall for the manipulation of other companies like it.
The Change is Coming
It is an understood fact of reality that without a significant downturn in carbon emissions, specifically a 50% reduction from 2010 levels by 2030, we will enter into a catastrophic downward spiral of ecological disaster that could eradicate our species and affect all life on earth.
While scientists have been ringing the alarm bell on this for decades, it is only within the last decade that awareness and understanding of this has taken hold in society.
Numerous environmental advocacy organizations are operating doing important work, there are even companies who are revolutionizing the methods used in production and manufacturing to secure a healthy world.
However, assuming that after almost two centuries of massive profits, the polluting industries and companies would give up without a fight would be foolish.
Since the 1980s, there has been an understanding that various sectors, specifically oil and gas, have been primarily responsible for destroying our environment and atmosphere. Once they discovered this fact, instead of changing operational methods, they covered it up and began a disinformation campaign that has had effects reverberating into the present.
While, by and large, that effort has failed, what is happening now is more subtle. This is how greenwashing is fooling environmentally minded people into believing that the worst offenders against our world are trying to help, if not leading the charge.
What is Greenwashing?
Greenwashing has become a buzzword colloquially referring to the lies and deceit peddled by environmentally damaging organizations to appear ecologically sensitive when engaging in the same old practices or, in some cases, even worse methods.
However, while that’s an easy catch-all term, it masks the truth of how these tactics and practices of deceit work. Over the past decade, greenwashing has become significantly more sophisticated in manipulating and deceiving even those keenly aware of the damage these companies have done and are continuing to do.
According to Planet Tracker, an environmental non-profit financial think tank, six main methods of greenwashing are most commonly used by offending companies.
Greencrowding is when you hide within the actions of a large group of companies, the entire group moving slowly towards genuine sustainability policies.
Greenshifting is when companies imply or outright say that the consumer or individual is at fault for environmental damage, though companies impact the world significantly more.
Green labeling is when companies say that a particular decision or product is green when it is not.
Greenrinsing is when companies shift their ESG goals right before they are achieved, making it seem like they are hitting their targets when falling short.
Greenhushing is when companies under-report or hide their sustainability credentials to avoid investor scrutiny.
Finally, there is greenlighting, when offending companies highlight specific sustainable practices or projects. However, these practices or projects comprise a small percentage of their overall revenue or importance.
This last form is essential because there’s a perfect example of this practice in the Drax Group, an energy company operating in the UK.
Drax Group as Example
The history of the Drax Group is intricately linked to the privatization of public services that the UK experienced in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
The group’s name was taken from the Drax Group’s vital asset, the Drax Power Station. This biomass generation facility was operated by National Power, one of the new companies created during the privatization.
However, due to financial difficulties and several restructuring events, a consortium of companies came together to create the Drax Group. Now, this company holds several different assets in generation, material sourcing, and energy storage.
The critical thing to note is that biomass generators are notoriously unsustainable, despite being touted by Drax Group as a sustainable energy source.
The main reasons why this is the case are twofold, the first being that biomass generators output significant carbon emissions, in some cases more than conventional coal-fired power plants, and the second is that where the biomass is sourced from is often dubious at best.
Drax and other biomass energy generation companies will tell you that the source of their biomass comes from unused wood products like woodchips, in other words, material that otherwise would go to waste or be burned anyway.
And while this may be true for a small percentage of their sourcing, Drax Group has explicitly been sparked in controversy recently due to evidence showing that they have been working with North American forestry companies harvesting full trees for their biomass that otherwise would have been left standing.
This is a prime example of greenlighting. Another example of this with the Drax Group would be their focus on highlighting and promoting their new Hollow Mountain hydroelectric battery plant expansion.
While this expansion is reasonable and appears to be an attempt on the part of Drax to expand further into renewable energy, hydroelectric power only makes up 2% of Drax’s entire energy output.
Greenlighting again distracts the citizen/consumer from the truth of how the Drax Group is a significant polluter and participant in destroying forests that otherwise would have been left untouched.
Awareness of these companies making these choices is crucial, as many recognize how society is moving towards a green future. However, that won’t stop corporations from profiting off of that fact while still operating as they have been for decades.
It is up to us, the individuals and citizens of our world, to hold these corporations accountable for their actions and use critical thinking and awareness of their manipulative tactics.