The subtle art of greenwashing

Lululemon’s example

 

As a marketing major pursuing a concentration in sustainability and social impact, greenwashing is my worst enemy. And if there is one lesson I have learned by looking at examples of companies that have been accused of greenwashing, it is that there is a fine line between describing a product’s features and selling a fake sustainable idea. One of the latest greenwashing “incidents” involves athletic wear giant Lululemon, the Canadian brand which has been called out for misleading customers to think the company is making progress in minimising its environmental impact.
Although the brand has made some concrete changes to source better materials, nonprofit organisation Stand.earth noticed Lululemon’s Scope 3 emissions (indirect emissions caused by a company’s activities) increased between 2020 and 2022, despite their Be Planet campaign launched during the pandemic year (Benchetrit, 2024). The sustainability report therefore leads us to wonder: to what extent is Lululemon responsible for its Scope 3 emissions? After all, they are showing initiative by making changes in things they can control. Should companies be held responsible for Scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions equally, or does Scope 1 take over the others?

Although these questions are up to one’s interpretation, they can be looked at from a legal standpoint. As mentioned by Peter A. Allard School of Law Professor Carol Liao, the law in Canada states that directors and officers must “act honestly and in good faith with a view to the best interests of the corporation” (C. Liao, personal communication, February 15, 2024) by considering all stakeholders. More importantly, it’s worth mentioning that the environment is recognised as an actual stakeholder of the organisation, which holds as much weight as every other party, such as shareholders and customers. This is to ensure that the corporation’s sole purpose is not to make profit but to do it more sustainably and fairly. The fiduciary duty towards the corporation, therefore, implies that the Scope 3 emissions that Lululemon’s actions caused fall under the directors’ responsibility, as the impact of such actions on the environment might have been overlooked. The indirect link between the company and the environmental impact is not as strong as it would be for Scope 1 emissions. However, the company has been accused of greenwashing multiple times in the past, and should be held accountable for its mistakes. After all, corporations such as Lululemon have the resources to make change on a large scale, which the world definitely needs right now.

References

Benchetrit, J. (2024, February 14). Lululemon marketing complaint could be a test of Canada’s greenwashing laws, expert says. CBC News. https://www.cbc.ca/news/business/lululemon-competition-bureau-claim-1.7114286

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