March is data literacy and critical thinking month at Green Story.
Why you might ask? Because, as the wise man said, change comes from within*. As more companies are realising that being green is a great selling feature consumers are being inundated with green messaging, and of course, green washing.
How can we, as everyday consumers, separate out the pretenders from the genuinely green companies? It’s not easy but the first step is to examine what’s being told (sold?) to us by the company providing the information.
In other words, be sharp in your thinking.
Critical thinking was recently brought up The Guardian’s Humans need to become smarter thinkers to beat climate denial article. The article was based off a a paper in Environmental Research Letters in which they examined 42 common climate denial myths.
Not surprisingly, the researchers found that every single climate denial myth demonstrated fallacious reasoning (and they made a cheeky video (below) that walks you through how to spot a fallacy and/or annoy your friends at a dinner party).
Being able to spot a fallacy is key to inoculating yourself against greenwashing.
Based off my upcoming interview series with Vince Schutt of Enviromentum, I’ve pulled together my top 3 way critical thinking tricks to help you to stay on your toes in a world full of green washing.
Number 3 – What’s their angle?
Every narrative is showing a particular point of view. Whether it’s the local organic boutique telling you about the benefits of going organic or the energy behemoth talking about clean coal. In some cases, it’s easy to understand what the viewpoint is, but often it’s not.
It’s a good idea to take a step back and understand why a company is trying to tell you something. Why do they want you to know the benefits of “clean coal”? And then listen to their statements. What is their point of view? Their context for seeing the world? Knowing these answers will allow you to evaluate their story and put your values first.
Number 2 – Do the actions match the words?
A quick way to think about whether you should trust a company is if they practice what they preach. If you’re convinced by their argument, and are looking to do business with them, take a moment to look around. Reputation can be a great way to check if a company actually stands behind what they speak. For example, the Koch Industries website will have anyone believe they are a green company. But a quick look at their reputation shows that is clearly not the case.
Number 1 – Is there logical consistency?
The biggest red flag for false claims or fake news is its illogical nature. A lot of false claims rely on testimonials, first party accounts and reassurances (like the example in the video that states “the climate has always changed” so it must be okay that it’s changing now), without linking it logically to the current argument. Ask yourself, does this one premise actually lead to the conclusion? Or is there a missing link?
For example, if a food manufacturer says something is natural, does it automatically mean it’s good for you?
The answer is no. Why? Because there’s a missing link, or a hidden premise, between the premise (it’s natural) and the conclusion (therefore it’s good for you). That hidden premise is that something natural is always good for you.
Now that we can see the hidden premise we can evaluate it for truth. Is something natural always good for you? I’d say that natural substances like poisonous mushrooms and scorpion stings indicate the answer is no.
When it comes to green washing always keep your eyes open for logical consistency.
Flex those critical thinking muscles:
To quote from the Guardian: “Climate denial suffers badly from a lack of critical thinking, which has spread all the way to the White House. Teaching people to think critically can help prevent it from spreading even further.”
I’d suggest that developing our critical thinking can be useful in stopping the spread of all sorts of misinformation. From green washing in your daily life to major political battles over climate change, flexing your critical thinking muscles on a regular basis goes a long way to avoiding green washing.