ESG and sustainable development have become buzzwords frequently used by global corporations. With more such terms such as carbon neutrality gaining popularity, businesses are increasingly keen to publicize their green behaviors, hoping to curry favor with consumers. But are companies simply “greenwashing”?
The term greenwashing can be traced back to 1986, when American environmentalist Jay Westerveld used it to denounce “towel-saving” practices in hotels. It is generally used to describe companies that exaggerate their environmental efforts in order to mislead consumers.
In 2009, Southern Weekly introduced the concept of greenwashing to the Chinese public for the first time by publishing its “China Greenwashing List”, which attracted the attention of researchers.
They recently published the 2022 China Greenwashing List — selected from a range of listed companies, including top Chinese firms and international companies operating in China.
Environmental organizations such as the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs (IPE) and SIP Lvse Jiangnan Public Environment Concerned Centre (PECC) have tracked and identified violations at a number of Tesla suppliers. Several of the suppliers disclosed in Tesla’s 2022 Impact Report had environmental violations, but had not yet pushed them to publicly disclose any of their corrective measures.
As a leader in the new energy vehicle industry, a supposedly green industry, Tesla’s supply chain management is representative of the whole industry. Tesla did not respond to requests for comment from Southern Weekly.
Beijing Sanyuan Food
Beijing Sanyuan Food is the leading dairy company in China, and its social responsibility report has been rated five stars for five years. In its corporate social responsibility report, Sanyuan says it is “leading the green future” and strictly complies with the law.
However, some environmental NGOs found that the Sanyuan-owned Beijing First Nong Livestock Development Company and some of its branches had received multiple environmental fines. For example, in February 2022, one of the company’s ranches was fined 200,000 yuan for illegally discharging sewage.
Although Sanyuan Food explained the administrative punishment in its 2022 annual report, saying the problems had been rectified, they did not disclose any details. Sanyuan did not respond to Southern Weekly’s interview request.
Zhejiang Huatong Meat Products
The core business of Zhejiang Huatong Meat Products Company is livestock and poultry slaughtering, and it won the title of Zhejiang Province’s Green Enterprise. The company claims to have created a “green industrial chain” in four major industries: feed processing, livestock and poultry breeding, livestock and poultry slaughtering, and meat products deep processing.
Based on the 2022 corporate environmental penalty data collected, a number of companies under Zhejiang Huatong have repeatedly discharged excessive pollutants. Last August for example, Tiantai Huatong — one of Zhejiang Huatong’s subsidiaries — was fined for not reporting to authorities that it wasn’t using automatic pollutant monitoring equipment – and it refused to rectify the situation, and was subsequently ordered to stop production. The company was ordered to stop production again for the same reason in December.
Shandong Xinhua Pharmaceutical
Shandong Xinhua Pharmaceutical is a production and export base for antipyretic and analgesic drugs. After receiving the national “Green Factory” award, Xinhua Pharmaceutical was selected as the “National Green Supply Chain Management Demonstration Enterprise” in 2022, making it the first chemical and pharmaceutical firm in China to obtain this title.
However, In January and February 2022, Shandong Xinhua Pharmaceutical was fined by the Zibo Ecological Environment Bureau for sewage discharge violations. Another company under Xinhua Pharmaceutical, Shandong Xinhua Wanbo Chemical, was fined for failing to implement emergency control measures during an orange warning period for heavy pollution.
Xinhua Pharmaceutical told a Southern Weekly reporter that the problems mentioned above have all been rectified.
New Hope Group
New Hope Group’s operations are centered around modern agriculture, animal husbandry and food. According to its official website, it ranks first in the world for feed production capacity and first in China for poultry processing capacity. The company’s 2022 CSR report states that the concept of green development has been integrated into corporate operations, strictly controlling the generation and emission of pollutants, reducing the impact on the surrounding environment and more.
However, New Hope received a number of environmental fines in 2022, with some of the highest fines and largest number issued in the breeding industry.
China Shenhua Energy operates coal, power, new energy, coal chemical and other businesses and was ranked 36th in the Fortune China 500 in 2022. The company’s core values according to its website are “green development, the pursuit of excellence”, and it was ranked 13th on the Fortune 2022 China ESG Impact List, claiming that it will achieve carbon peak by 2025 and carbon neutrality by 2060.
According to the 2022 corporate environmental penalty data, China Shenhua and its subsidiaries were fined more than 20 million yuan, and the total amount ranked first in the coal industry. In addition to violating the environmental assessment law, the company was also punished for dumping and piling hazardous waste without authorization and not inspecting a hazardous waste warehouse.
As China’s overseas e-commerce fast fashion giant, SHEIN produces an extremely high number of new products and is associated with “super-fast fashion”.
In June 2022, at the Global Fashion Summit in Copenhagen, SHEIN announced a $50 million commitment to the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) Fund to benefit communities affected by textile waste. The move brought applause while also causing controversy for SHEIN.
SHEIN told a Southern Weekly reporter that the company adopts a different model to the traditional clothing industry. The company first produces different styles of products in small batches for market testing, and then, following sales feedback it quickly increases production of certain popular items, which “can reduce waste from the early stage”. But according to Wired, SHEIN still launched an average of around 6,000 new products a day.
H&M is a Swedish fashion brand with a global presence that aims to provide fashion and quality in a sustainable way at affordable prices.
In September 2022, the Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) released a report showing that H&M was suspected of misleading consumers about its environmental protection efforts. H&M put green labels such as “Conscious” and “Conscious choice” on its products, but failed to provide clear enough evidence to back up the labels.
Currently, H&M’s official website has a more detailed explanation of its recycling process, especially the collection and recycling of the product manufacturing process, but only in English.