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How corporations use greenwashing to win consumers

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Monday, May 15, 2023

Many corporations claim their products are “green-friendly.” But how do you know if what they’re selling is truly eco-safe? SciLine interviewed Thomas Lyon, professor of sustainable science, technology and commerce at the University of Michigan, on how to buy environmentally sustainable products, whether carbon credits actually work and the prevalence of greenwashing. WHAT IS GREENWASHING? How can the consumer avoid falling for it? ALSO READ: Climate change protest: A single radical gets more media coverage than thousands of marchers Thomas Lyon: I still love the old concept of the seven sins of greenwashing. The first and most common is what’s called the sin of the hidden trade-off, where an organization tells you something good they do but neglects to tell you the bad things that go along with it. For example, when you see an electric hand dryer in a public restroom, it may say on it: This dryer protects the environment. It saves trees from being used for paper. But it neglects to tell you that, of course, it’s powered with electricity, and that electricity may have been generated from coal-fired power, which might actually be more damaging than using a tree, which is a renewable resource. That’s the most common of the seven deadly sins. Other ones include the sin of irrelevance. For example, telling people that “this ship has an onboard wastewater recycling plant,” when all ships that go to Alaska are required by law to have exactly that kind of equipment. It’s no reflection of the company’s quality. GREEN FRIENDLY The sin of fibbing is actually the least common. Companies don’t usually actually lie about things. After all, it’s against the law. One of the increasingly common forms of greenwashing … is a hidden trade-off between the company’s market activities and its political activities. You may get a company that says: Look at this, we invested US$5 million in renewable energy last year. They may not tell you that they spent $100 billion drilling for oil in a sensitive location. And they may not tell you that they spent $50 million lobbying against climate legislation that would have made a real difference. Thomas Lyon: Greenwashing is any communication that leads the listener to adopt an overly favorable impression of a company’s greenness. WHAT ARE CARBON CREDITS (OR OFFSETS)? Thomas Lyon: I think the easiest way to understand these may be to step back a little bit and think about cap-and-trade systems … under which the government will set a cap on the aggregate amount of, say, carbon emissions. And within that, each company gets a right to emit a certain amount of carbon. But that company can then trade permits with other companies. Suppose the company finds it’s going to be really expensive for it to reduce its carbon emissions. But there’s some other company next door that could do it really cheaply. The company with the expensive reductions could pay the other company to do the reductions for it, and it then buys one of the permits – or more than one permit – from the company that can do it cheaply. ALSO READ: Snake rescuer catches 1.8m long black mamba in Durban That kind of trading system has been recommended by economists for decades, because it lowers the overall cost of achieving a given level of emissions reduction. And that’s a clean, well-enforced, reliable system. Now the place where things get confusing for people is that a lot of times the offsets are not coming from within a cap-and-trade system. Instead they’re coming from a voluntary offset that’s offered by some free-standing producer that’s not included in a cap. Now it’s necessary to ask a whole series of additional questions. Perhaps the foremost among them is: Is this offset actually producing a reduction that was not going to happen anyway? CONSUMERS’ DUTY It may be that the company claims, “Oh, we’re saving this forest from being cut down.” But maybe the forest was in a protected region in a country where there was no chance it was going to be cut down anyway. So that offset is not what is called in the offset world “additional.” What should consumers make of companies that offer programs such as planting a tree for every widget they sell? Thomas Lyon: Overall, it’s better that they’re trying to do something than just ignoring the issue. But this is where you, the consumer, have to start doing your homework … and look for a provider that has a strong reputation and that is making claims validated by external sources. Which rating schemes can people trust? Thomas Lyon: There’s a cool little app that I like a lot. You can download it. It’s called EWG Healthy Living. EWG stands for Environmental Working Group. It’s a group of scientists who get together and draw on science to assess which products are environmentally friendly, and which ones aren’t. And they have something like 150,000 products in their database. ALSO READ: City of Cape Town will donate to NSRI annually to assist with towing of marine life You can scan the UPC code when you go to the store, and you just immediately get this information up on your phone that rates the quality of the company’s environmental claims and performance. That’s a really nice little way to verify things on the fly. ENVIRONMENT Are there any examples of business practices that really do benefit the environment? Thomas Lyon: Building is one big area. LEED building standards or Energy Star building standards reduce environmental impact. They improve the quality of the indoor environment for employees. They actually produce higher rents because people are more willing to work in these kinds of buildings. You can look at the whole movement toward renewable energy and companies that produce solar or wind energy. They’re doing something that really is good for the environment. ALSO READ: Climate change almost doubles the risk of wildfires in Cape Town The move toward electric vehicles – that really will be good for the environment. It does raise trade-offs. There are going to be issues around certain critical mineral inputs into producing batteries, and we’ve got to figure out good ways to reuse batteries and then dispose of them at the end of their life. Article by: Tom Lyon. Professor of Sustainable Science, Technology and Commerce and Business Economics, University of Michigan This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article. CLICK HERE TO READ MORE ARTICLES BY THE CONVERSATION. The post How corporations use greenwashing to win consumers appeared first on SAPeople - Worldwide South African News.

Many corporations claim their products are “green-friendly.” But how do you know if what they’re selling is truly eco-safe? SciLine interviewed Thomas Lyon, professor of sustainable science, technology and commerce at the University of Michigan, on how to buy environmentally sustainable products, whether carbon credits actually work and the prevalence of greenwashing. WHAT IS GREENWASHING? […] The post How corporations use greenwashing to win consumers appeared first on SAPeople - Worldwide South African News.

Many corporations claim their products are “green-friendly.” But how do you know if what they’re selling is truly eco-safe? SciLine interviewed Thomas Lyon, professor of sustainable science, technology and commerce at the University of Michigan, on how to buy environmentally sustainable products, whether carbon credits actually work and the prevalence of greenwashing.

WHAT IS GREENWASHING?

How can the consumer avoid falling for it?

ALSO READ: Climate change protest: A single radical gets more media coverage than thousands of marchers

Thomas Lyon: I still love the old concept of the seven sins of greenwashing. The first and most common is what’s called the sin of the hidden trade-off, where an organization tells you something good they do but neglects to tell you the bad things that go along with it.

For example, when you see an electric hand dryer in a public restroom, it may say on it: This dryer protects the environment. It saves trees from being used for paper.

But it neglects to tell you that, of course, it’s powered with electricity, and that electricity may have been generated from coal-fired power, which might actually be more damaging than using a tree, which is a renewable resource. That’s the most common of the seven deadly sins.

Other ones include the sin of irrelevance. For example, telling people that “this ship has an onboard wastewater recycling plant,” when all ships that go to Alaska are required by law to have exactly that kind of equipment. It’s no reflection of the company’s quality.

GREEN FRIENDLY

The sin of fibbing is actually the least common. Companies don’t usually actually lie about things. After all, it’s against the law.

One of the increasingly common forms of greenwashing … is a hidden trade-off between the company’s market activities and its political activities.

You may get a company that says: Look at this, we invested US$5 million in renewable energy last year. They may not tell you that they spent $100 billion drilling for oil in a sensitive location. And they may not tell you that they spent $50 million lobbying against climate legislation that would have made a real difference.

Thomas Lyon: Greenwashing is any communication that leads the listener to adopt an overly favorable impression of a company’s greenness.

WHAT ARE CARBON CREDITS (OR OFFSETS)?

Thomas Lyon: I think the easiest way to understand these may be to step back a little bit and think about cap-and-trade systems … under which the government will set a cap on the aggregate amount of, say, carbon emissions. And within that, each company gets a right to emit a certain amount of carbon.

But that company can then trade permits with other companies. Suppose the company finds it’s going to be really expensive for it to reduce its carbon emissions. But there’s some other company next door that could do it really cheaply.

The company with the expensive reductions could pay the other company to do the reductions for it, and it then buys one of the permits – or more than one permit – from the company that can do it cheaply.

ALSO READ: Snake rescuer catches 1.8m long black mamba in Durban

That kind of trading system has been recommended by economists for decades, because it lowers the overall cost of achieving a given level of emissions reduction. And that’s a clean, well-enforced, reliable system.

Now the place where things get confusing for people is that a lot of times the offsets are not coming from within a cap-and-trade system. Instead they’re coming from a voluntary offset that’s offered by some free-standing producer that’s not included in a cap.

Now it’s necessary to ask a whole series of additional questions. Perhaps the foremost among them is: Is this offset actually producing a reduction that was not going to happen anyway?

CONSUMERS’ DUTY

It may be that the company claims, “Oh, we’re saving this forest from being cut down.” But maybe the forest was in a protected region in a country where there was no chance it was going to be cut down anyway. So that offset is not what is called in the offset world “additional.”

What should consumers make of companies that offer programs such as planting a tree for every widget they sell?

Thomas Lyon: Overall, it’s better that they’re trying to do something than just ignoring the issue. But this is where you, the consumer, have to start doing your homework … and look for a provider that has a strong reputation and that is making claims validated by external sources.

Which rating schemes can people trust?

Thomas Lyon: There’s a cool little app that I like a lot. You can download it. It’s called EWG Healthy Living. EWG stands for Environmental Working Group. It’s a group of scientists who get together and draw on science to assess which products are environmentally friendly, and which ones aren’t. And they have something like 150,000 products in their database.

ALSO READ: City of Cape Town will donate to NSRI annually to assist with towing of marine life

You can scan the UPC code when you go to the store, and you just immediately get this information up on your phone that rates the quality of the company’s environmental claims and performance. That’s a really nice little way to verify things on the fly.

ENVIRONMENT

Are there any examples of business practices that really do benefit the environment?

Thomas Lyon: Building is one big area. LEED building standards or Energy Star building standards reduce environmental impact. They improve the quality of the indoor environment for employees. They actually produce higher rents because people are more willing to work in these kinds of buildings.

You can look at the whole movement toward renewable energy and companies that produce solar or wind energy. They’re doing something that really is good for the environment.

ALSO READ: Climate change almost doubles the risk of wildfires in Cape Town

The move toward electric vehicles – that really will be good for the environment. It does raise trade-offs. There are going to be issues around certain critical mineral inputs into producing batteries, and we’ve got to figure out good ways to reuse batteries and then dispose of them at the end of their life.

Article by: Tom Lyon. Professor of Sustainable Science, Technology and Commerce and Business Economics, University of Michigan

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

CLICK HERE TO READ MORE ARTICLES BY THE CONVERSATION.

The post How corporations use greenwashing to win consumers appeared first on SAPeople - Worldwide South African News.

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Dog attacks on adults are rising – but science shows blaming breeds won’t help

Different dog breeds are often blamed for increases in dog attacks. But science shows reality is more complicated. The post Dog attacks on adults are rising – but science shows blaming breeds won’t help appeared first on SAPeople - Worldwide South African News.

Another terrifying dog attack video has just gone viral on social media. It shows three large bullbreed dogs jumping up and grabbing onto a screaming woman in a park. It is understandable that when such videos and media reports circulate there are renewed calls to ban certain breeds. The latest is the American Bully XL, an evolution bred from the pit bull terrier, which can weigh up to 60kg. But are breeds such as this really to blame for a rising dog bite problem? Research shows that one in four people have been bitten by a dog in their lifetime but less than 1% of bites result in hospital admission. Our research showed that English hospital admissions for being “bitten or struck by a dog” rose over a 20-year period from 1998 to 2018. This data concern bites seriously enough for hospital admission, not just emergency department attendance. Over a similar period, fatal dog bites in England and Wales averaged at about three per year. In 2022 there were ten fatalities. It’s not clear whether this is a new trend, or whether 2022 was a tragically anomalous year. The rise in the incidence of dog bites appears to be restricted to adults, where the numbers have tripled over 20 years. In general, men are more likely to be bitten and delivery workers are a common victim. Dog attacks on middle-aged women are increasing the fastest. We don’t know why this is, but it could be that the profile of people who own and spend time with dogs is changing. We find higher rates in more deprived communities. The reasons for this are unknown, but similar trends are seen in other types of injuries too. Are some breeds more aggressive than others? There is little consistent scientific evidence that some breeds are inherently more aggressive than others. Our evaluations suggest that the breeds reported to bite are simply the most popular breeds in that region. However, when we examine breeds involved in fatalities, it is clear that most are large and powerful. That’s not to say smaller breeds cannot kill – they have been known to. As American XL Bullies are a new sub-breed of the American bulldog, there has been no scientific study of their bite risk and bite rates were rising long before they existed. There is a lot of variation between dogs of the same breed. Monika Chodak/Shutterstock They and the other American bulldogs and related pit bulls do feature highly in fatalities lists. Yet so do rottweilers, German shepherds and Malamutes. Kenneth Baker, the home secretary responsible for the Dangerous Dogs Act that banned pit bull terriers admitted in his autobiography that a ban on rottweilers, Dobermans and Alsatians would have “infuriated” the middle classes. A confounding factor here is breed distribution, as powerful breeds have long been linked to deprived communities where violence and injuries already centralise. Some evidence links these breeds to status or criminal use, but most are family pets. The majority of dog bites are from a dog known to the victim. Often this is the family pet and bites happen during stroking, restraining or just play. The dog is often responding to discomfort, whether pain or fear. What can we do to prevent dog bites? Genetic tendencies in breeding lines are an important factor so when choosing a dog, it’s important to view and assess the parents of the puppy. Dogs of the same breed vary widely in their behaviour. Behaviour tendencies are inherited from parents. Look for signs of nervousness or shyness around people, as well as outright aggression (barking, growling, snapping). Dogs from puppy farms in particular are prone to health and behavioural problems. Unfortunately, many puppies who come from these mass-producing unscrupulous breeders are fraudulently marketed as from a loving family home. Banning more breeds won’t work. New varieties will fill the gap, like what happened with the pit bull. Dog bites are a complex societal problem and we cannot expect a quick legislative fix (such as banning a breed or reintroduction of dog licences) to solve it. Dog licensing would be prohibitively expensive to manage and without strict enforcement, would be easy to circumvent. Clever environmental design could go a long way towards preventing people and dogs from being exposed to risky situations, for example installing external letterboxes as standard. People often tout education as the answer. But it’s a small part of the solution. Public education needs enforcement measures and supportive policies to work. Improving people’s expectations of what good dog welfare looks like is key to minimising fearful and frustrating situations for dogs. This includes not abusing dogs in the name of training and providing sufficient exercise and space. Training methods must be kind and reward-based, as punishment-based methods are associated with reduced success and greater stress, fear and aggression. ALSO READ: How long do dogs live? Educational efforts should be focused on addressing the perception that “it wouldn’t happen to me” and introducing new social norms such as never leaving children alone with dogs. There are lots of resources about safe interactions with dogs on the Mersey Dog Safe website. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking “my dog wouldn’t bite anyone”. Every day, dogs who have never bitten someone before, do. Carri Westgarth, Chair in Human-Animal Interaction, University of Liverpool and John Tulloch, Lecturer, University of Liverpool This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article. The post Dog attacks on adults are rising – but science shows blaming breeds won’t help appeared first on SAPeople - Worldwide South African News.

Q&A: Steven Gonzalez on Indigenous futurist science fiction

The HASTS PhD candidate describes his new book, “Sordidez,” a science fiction novella on rebuilding, healing, and indigeneity following civil war and climate disaster.

Steven Gonzalez is a PhD candidate in the MIT Doctoral Program in History, Anthropology, Science, Technology, and Society (HASTS), where he researches the environmental impacts of cloud computing and data centers in the United States, Iceland, and Puerto Rico. He is also an author. Writing under the name E.G. Condé, he recently published his first book, “Sordidez.” It’s described as an “Indigenous futurist science fiction novella set in Puerto Rico and the Yucatán.” Set in the near future, it follows the survivors of civil war and climate disaster led by protagonist Vero Diaz, as they reclaim their Indigenous heritage and heal their lands. In this Q&A, Gonzalez describes the book's themes, its inspirations, and its connection to research, people, and classes at MIT. Q: Where did the inspiration for this story come from? A: I actually began my time at MIT in September of 2017 when Hurricane María struck. It was a really difficult time for me at the Institute, starting a PhD program. And it's MIT, so there's a lot of pressure. I was still kind of navigating the new institutional space and trying to understand my place in it. But I had a lot of people at the Institute who were extremely supportive during that time. I had family members in Puerto Rico who were stranded as a result of the hurricane, who I didn't hear from for a very long time — who I feared dead. It was a very, very chaotic, confusing, and emotionally turbulent time for me, and also incredibly difficult to be trying to be present in a PhD program for the first semester. Karen Gardner, our administrator, was really incredibly supportive in that. Also the folks at the MIT Association of Puerto Ricans, who hosted fundraisers and linked students with counseling resources. But that trauma of the hurricane and the images that I saw of the aftermath of the hurricane, specifically in the town where my grandmother's house was where I spent time living as a child during the summers, and to me, it was the greenest place that I have ever known. It looked like somebody had torched the entire landscape. It was traumatizing to see that image. But that kind of seeded the idea of, is there a way to burn without fire? There's climate change, but there's also climate terror. And so that was sort of one of the premises of the book explores, geoengineering, but also the flip side of geoengineering and terraforming is, of course, climate terror. And in a way, we could frame what's been happening with the fossil fuel industry as a form of climate terror, as well. So for me, this all began right when I started at MIT, these dual tracks of thought. Q: What do you see as the core themes of your novella? A: One major theme is rebuilding. As I said, this story was very influenced by the trauma of Hurricane María and the incredibly inspiring accounts from family members, from people in Puerto Rico that I know, of regular people stepping up when the government — both federal and local — essentially abandoned them. There were so many failures of governance. But people stepped up and did what they could to help each other, to help neighbors. Neighbors cleared trees from roads. They banded together to do this. They pooled resources, to run generators so that everyone in the same street could have food that day. They would share medical supplies like insulin and things that were scarce. This was incredibly inspiring for me. And a huge theme of the book is rebuilding in the aftermath of a fictive hurricane, which I call Teddy, named after President Theodore Roosevelt, where Puerto Rico's journey began as a U.S. commonwealth or a colony. Healing is also a huge theme. Healing in the sense of this story was also somewhat critical of Puerto Rican culture. And it's refracted through my own experience as a queer person navigating the space of Puerto Rico as a very kind of religious and traditional place and a very complex place at that. The main character, Vero, is a trans man. This is a person who's transitioned and has felt a lot of alienation and as a result of his gender transition, a lot of people don't accept him and don't accept his identity or who he is even though he's incredibly helpful in this rebuilding effort to the point where he's, in some ways, a leader, if not the leader. And it becomes, in a way, about healing from the trauma of rejection too. And of course, Vero, but other characters who have gone through various traumas that I think are very much shared across Latin America, the Latin American experiences of assimilation, for instance. Latin America is a very complex place. We have Spanish as our language, that is our kind of lingua franca. But there are many Indigenous languages that people speak that have been not valued or people who speak them or use them are actively punished. And there's this deep trauma of losing language. And in the case of Puerto Rico, the Indigenous language of the Taínos has been destroyed by colonialism. The story is about rebuilding that language and healing and “becoming.” In some ways, it's about re-indigenization. And then the last part, as I said, healing, reconstruction, but also transformation and metamorphosis. And becoming Taíno. Again, what does that mean? What does it mean to be an Indigenous Caribbean in the future? And so that's one of the central themes of the story. Q: How does the novella intersect with the work you’re doing as a PhD candidate in HASTS? A: My research on cloud computing is very much about climate change. It's pitched within the context of climate change and understanding how our digital ecosystem contributes to not only global warming, but things like desertification. As a social scientist, that's what I study. My studies of infrastructure are also directly referenced in the book in a lot of ways. For instance, the now collapsed Arecibo Ionosphere Observatory, where some of my pandemic fieldwork occurred, is a setting in the book. And also, I am an anthropologist. I am Puerto Rican. I draw both from my personal experience and my anthropological lens to make a story that I think is very multicultural and multilingual. It's set in Puerto Rico, but the other half is set in the Yucatán Peninsula in what we'll call the former Maya world. And there's a lot of intersections between the two settings. And that goes back to the deeper Indigenous history. Some people are calling this Indigenous futurism because it references the Taínos, who are the Indigenous people of Puerto Rico, but also the Mayas, and many different Maya groups that are throughout the Yucatán Peninsula, but also present-day Guatemala and Honduras. And the story is about exchange between these two worlds. As someone trained as an anthropologist, it's a really difficult task to kind of pull that off. And I think that my training has really, really helped me achieve that. Q: Are there any examples of ways being among the MIT community while writing this book influenced and, in some ways, made this project possible? A: I relied on many of my colleagues for support. There's some sign language in the book. In Puerto Rico, there's a big tradition of sign language. There's a version of American sign language called LSPR that's only found in Puerto Rico. And that's something I've been aware of ever since I was a kid. But I'm not fluent in sign language or deaf communities and their culture. I got a lot of help from Timothy Loh, who's in the HASTS program, who was extremely helpful to steer me towards sensitivity readers in the deaf community in his networks. My advisor, Stefan Helmreich, is very much a science fiction person in a lot of ways. His research is on the ocean waves, the history and anthropology of biology. He's done ethnography in deep-sea submersibles. He's always kind of thinking in a science fictional lens. And he allowed me, for one of my qualifying exam lists, to mesh science fiction with social theory. And that was also a way that I felt very supported by the Institute. In my coursework, I also took a few science fiction courses in other departments. I worked with Shariann Lewitt, who actually read the first version of the story. I workshopped it in her 21W.759 (Writing Science Fiction) class, and got some really amazing feedback that led to what is now a publication and a dream fulfilled in so many ways. She took me under her wing and really believed in this book.

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