#143 Show Notes | Into the Headlines: The End of Greenwashing? And More

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#143 | Into the Headlines: The End of Greenwashing? And More

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Wow, a lot has happened since the last time I did an Into the Headlines episode and I’ve been holding onto a few topics that I wanted to discuss with you all: first, the end of greenwashing, second, updates from CITES on African carnivores, and some other fun updates that I’ve been collecting.

The Beginning of the End of Greenwashing

Okay, let’s talk about greenwashing. I’ve wanted to cover this topic for a long time and even have it listed as a solo episode in my episode brainstorming list. 
I never felt the time was right until now. And that’s because in May of this year, the Guardian sent a newsletter whose subject line was: “The end of “climate-friendly” marketing?”. I immediately clicked on the email to see if my greenwashing episode finally had an ending. 

According to the authors of the newsletter, Ellen Ormesher and Patrick Greenfield, and their corresponding article called “Greenwashing era is over, say ad agencies, as regulators get tough”, UK and EU ad agencies are cracking down on the climate-friendly claims companies are allowed to make. 

There’s a specific practice that I want to focus our attention on: carbon credits. Instead of tackling sustainability issues head-on, countless companies are partnering with carbon credit firms that promise to offset the carbon emissions that the company produces. 

When I first heard of this concept, I thought, “Wow! What a genius and innovative solution.” But the more I learned about how carbon credits “work”, the more skeptical I became.

Just in case you haven’t had the chance to study carbon credits in detail, how they basically work is a company that produces carbon emissions will either hire someone internally or externally to calculate the amount of carbon their operations produce, and then partner with a company that sells carbon credits to offset the carbon pollution they are emitting into the air.

These green companies are able to sell credits by creating carbon-negative projects, such as replanting a forest, bringing electricity to an underserved community through renewable resources, or restoring wetlands that sequester carbon and offer a sustainable food source for local communities. And so, a carbon-positive company will pay money to the carbon-negative company to hopefully reach a carbon-neutral state. 

In theory, this system sounds wonderful. However, as pointed out by Balmford et al. in a paper recently published in Science called, “Credit credibility threatens forests,” these calculations commonly overestimate the amount of carbon a project can offset, and often don’t include other negative impacts that an offsetting project generates. 

For example, if a timber operation is not allowed to cut down trees because the target forest is now part of a carbon project, then they’ll simply go cut down a forest somewhere else. Additionally, when a carbon project ends and long-lasting protection measures are not in place, the forest it once protected is then at risk of being destroyed, thereby undoing all of the work the project originally set out to do. 

After digging further into the research, I found more criticisms of several carbon offsetting programs. First, many projects don’t properly address additionality. For example, let’s say a project’s goal is to protect forest land, but the forest the project protects was never in danger of being destroyed. Thereby it doesn’t provide any additional benefits to carbon reductions, which is needed if we are to have any hopes of reaching carbon neutrality in the coming decades.
Experts have also listed issues with community conflict, inaccurate baselines which carbon models are built upon, and so on.

So, hopefully, by now you can see why I’ve been skeptical about carbon credits for awhile now and finally, we have peer-reviewed papers and media attention essentially calling out the carbon credit industry.

To me, carbon credits are an easy out for companies to say they’re green to appeal to today’s consumer base without doing the hard work necessary to actually reduce their impact. I’d feel much better about carbon credits if a company purchased them only after they’ve done as much as they can to reduce carbon emissions from their operations, and then purchase valid carbon credits to fill in the gaps. 

Luckily, these pushbacks from the public are making top carbon credit organizations, like Verra, a leader in environmental and social markets, reanalyze their Verified Carbon Standard Program to see how they can improve.

Until we move away from fossil fuels, which won’t happen anytime soon, then it will be nearly impossible for industry as a whole to be carbon neutral. 

How do I approach this carbon credit, greenwashing problem in my own day to day? When I’m searching for a product to buy, I do my best to select items that are made from recycled materials to help fuel a closed-loop economy. Items are not recyclable if they’re not worth anything, so by me giving my dollars to a company that spends the time and resources creating recycled products, I’m telling that industry that I want more of these products and not ones made from virgin materials. This isn’t always possible, of course, but I do my best when given the option.

A valid argument that might be growing in your mind directed to me is that I am a huge supporter of conservation tourism. I’ve worked in the industry for years and I’m on a plane every chance I get to somewhere wild in the world. As we all know, flying generates a massive amount of carbon emissions. 
But, here’s how I look at it. If I or other nature travelers stop visiting these wild places, then the areas will be destroyed, causing significantly larger problems with biodiversity loss, fewer ecosystems for carbon sequestration, an increase in carbon emissions from the release of stored carbon, food and water supply destabilization, all of which accelerate climate change. 

Tourism, along with protective measures and community involvement, places a monetary value on these ecosystems. If tourists stopped traveling, the Serengeti, Pantanal, and Galapagos Islands, would almost certainly be destroyed, to name a few.

Do these activities generate carbon? Yes. Can individual people buy carbon credits to offset their flights? Yes. And sure, by all means, do that, but also go outside and plant a tree in your backyard. The longer I’m in this line of work, the more I support planting native trees in our local communities to make real conservation impact. It’s amazing how one small act can have such a huge impact.

I recently listened to an interview on The Tim Ferris Show interviewing Seth Godin, and during the conversation, Seth proclaimed that he is never getting on a plane again, and helped bring together a large group of people to write The Carbon Alamanc. I bought the book and plan to read it soon. If I have a change of heart or learn something worth sharing, I’ll be sure to let you all know.

I didn’t think I’d talk about carbon credits for that long. I guess I had a long to say. Let’s move on, shall we?

For the second part of today’s conversation, I wanted to share a few conservation highlights that I found very interesting.

More Protection for African Carnivores

First, exciting news, African carnivores received further protection through CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora)! In May, representatives from CITES, the African Carnivores Initiative (ACI) through the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) (so many acronyms) came together in Uganda to discuss urgent conservation needs for lions, leopards, cheetahs, and wild dogs. The meeting notes are 33 pages long, but the highlight conservation priorities are (directly from CITES’ press release):

“1. Strengthening policies and actions to enhance human-carnivore co-existence”
“2. Promoting partnerships between the ACI Range States and within the global conservation community3. Improving information and tools available to Range States (by enhancing data management processes associated with the African Lion Database; developing Lion, Leopard and African Wild Dog resource kits based on the Cheetah Trade Resource Kit, and providing advice to Range States on the development of infectious disease management plans for ACI species populations)”
“3. Securing funding for the implementation of the ACI Programme of Work”

This is fantastic news all around. I obviously wasn’t there, but after reading through the press release and meeting notes, it sounds like African carnivore range states are open to collaboration and working together. Representatives from KAZA Transfrontier Conservation Area in Southern Africa and W-Arly-Pendjari (WAP Complex) in Western Africa explained how their systems work and shared the lessons they learned along the way.

They encouraged the other range states in attendance to come together for wildlife conservation and community empowerment, with these two programs as inspiration for what can be accomplished. 

Wow, more Transfrontier Conservation Areas in Africa could be huge! This was just one solution, of course, and I could do an entire episode on this important meeting since big felines are my favorite and I was just in Tanzania, but I’ll wait until the next big Convention of the Parties meeting to see how these priorities are implemented. Stay tuned for that!

Wolverines Spotted in the Pacific Northwest

Next, to make you feel warm and fuzzy, wolverines are returning to the Pacific Northwest!

In April, media headlines were full of stories about wolverines being spotted in Oregon. From what I could find, biologists are pretty sure the two individuals are just passing through, but still, it’s cool to see them strolling through their old stomping grounds. I know many people whose wildlife bucket list includes the wolverine.  The more places to spot them, the better!

Reduced Deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon

Lastly, the Brazilian government announced that Amazon deforestation is down by 33.6% in the first six months of this year as compared to the same time period last year. The decrease coincides with the country’s new president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, coming into power. Da Silva is committed to protecting the Amazon forest, as demonstrated by fines issued to people breaking environmental laws increasing by 116%, and embargos on illegal forest products increasing by 111%. 

I’m traveling to Brazil next month to lead a trip to the Pantanal, and so I’m even more excited to read this news. I’ll be sure to tell you all how it goes!


Alright! Thanks for joining me in this exploration of carbon credits and interesting conservation headlines. I recommend using this episode as the launch point for your own exploration of these topics. Peruse the resources below to learn more

If you have questions about the topics discussed today or would like to chat about them further, post your questions in the Rewildologst Facebook group or comment below.

Greenwashing & Carbon Credits

African Carnivores


Deforestation in Brazil

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