As a child, I remember being enthralled by the tale of “The Emperor’s New Clothes.”
For those not au fait with the story, the fable tells of an emperor, swindled by clever tailors into believing he wore the finest of garments, paraded naked before his subjects, too proud and too stubborn to see the truth.
Today, it feels less enthralling and more disturbing to see a similar parallel playing out in the corporate world, where many companies, cloaked in the guise of the green movement, act as if they’re addressing climate change when in reality, behind closed doors, they’re wearing the same old clothes.
We’ve come to know it as “greenwashing,” however even such a label seems to have become a throw-away term, passing off the issue as something else and dismissing the real elephant in the room: a lack of change.
“Green” is the new orange, which we all know is the new black. Everywhere you look, companies are touting their sustainability initiatives, boasting of their reduced carbon footprints and parading their renewable energy commitments. They’re showing up at climate summits, speaking about the environment on global platforms, and pledging to become carbon neutral by ambitious deadlines.
But is this a genuine change of heart, or is it just the emperor’s new clothes version 2.0?
It’s undoubtedly the latter. This new-er form of corporate greenwashing is defined by misleading consumers about the environmental benefits of a product or service, with PR machines spin tales of green initiatives while business practices remain largely unchanged. Many such companies continue to be reliant on fossil fuels, using destructive supply chains, and offering little solace to the fact they contribute to the climate crisis behind the scenes.
The emperor may claim to wear new clothes, but on closer inspection, you’ll see the same old attire.
So, what’s the solution? Transparency. Genuine transformation. Companies need to move beyond mere rhetoric and demonstrate tangible changes in their operations. Being “green” should be more than just a PR exercise — it should be a core part of a company’s business model, embedded in its strategy, operations, and culture. It’s not enough to simple ‘wear’ it as a badge or garment on public occasions; it should be the very fabric of a company’s existence.
Unfortunately, history has shown that most genuine change occurs when society — or in this case, consumers — weald their purchasing power for good. The naked truth is that corporate profits cannot be permitted at the expense of justice — be that in people, the planet, or our collective growth. Holding companies accountable sounds scary and imposing on our day-to-day norms, but it doesn’t need to be. A simple bit of research can show us where to wisely spend our hard-earned income, supporting businesses that are genuinely committed to change but equally challenging ourselves when not to spend.
After all, the most sustainable purchase is the one you don’t make.