In recent years, the growing emphasis on environmental sustainability has seen many industries investing in eco-friendly technologies and approaches. However, amid this global shift towards greener practices, some companies have been accused of ‘greenwashing’. This term refers to the act of misleading consumers about the environmental benefits of a product, service, or company’s practices, creating a façade of environmental responsibility where there may be none.
This article delves into the recent accusations of greenwashing levelled against various cruise operators concerning their promotion of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) as a ‘green’ fuel.
Greenwashing: A Brief Overview
‘Greenwashing’ is a portmanteau of ‘green’ and ‘whitewashing’, signifying the practice of providing false or misleading information about a company’s environmental practices or the environmental benefits of its products or services. This misleading tactic aims to capitalise on the growing demand for environmentally-friendly products, services, and corporate behaviour, often leading consumers astray and causing them to support businesses that may be causing significant harm to the environment.
The Cruise Industry and LNG: A Controversial Relationship
The cruise industry has been under scrutiny for its environmental impact. In response, several cruise operators have shifted to using Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG), advertising it as a ‘green’ fuel alternative. But this claim has been met with scepticism and criticism by environmentalists and various Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs).
LNG is a fossil fuel that primarily consists of methane, a greenhouse gas with climate impacts over 80 times greater than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period. Despite these facts, some cruise companies have been promoting LNG as a viable solution to their environmental challenges, leading to accusations of greenwashing.
Laying Bare the Claims: An NGO’s Perspective
One such NGO, Opportunity Green, has taken a stand against this apparent greenwashing by the cruise industry. In a recently published report, ‘(Un)Sustainable from Ship to Shore’, the organisation highlights the misleading nature of the industry’s advertising of fossil LNG.
According to Opportunity Green, the cruise industry’s advertising tactics often include attributing an important role to fossil LNG in the maritime energy transition, promoting carbon emissions reductions, and making vague green claims about its use.
Examples of such claims include:
- Stating that the use of LNG is a significant step forward in setting a sustainable standard for the industry.
- Promoting LNG as a cleaner fuel with less carbon emissions, thereby minimising the company’s environmental footprint.
Filing Charges: The Legal Battle Begins
Convinced about the misleading nature of these advertising tactics, Opportunity Green has decided to file a series of complaints with the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) against some of the largest international cruise companies. The objective is to put a stop to what they perceive as LNG greenwashing, which they believe is potentially misleading consumers.
Understanding the Negative Impact of LNG
Despite what some cruise companies would like to suggest, fossil LNG may not be an alternative fuel solution that aligns with the 1.5°C temperature goal enshrined in the Paris Agreement. Research has shown that the lifecycle methane emissions associated with the use of fossil LNG in cruise ships can lead to an overall increase in greenhouse gas emissions.
The production of fossil LNG results in significant methane emissions across the supply chain even before it reaches the ships as fuel. Furthermore, burning it on the ships themselves releases unburned methane into the atmosphere, which is devastating for the climate.
The Regulatory Landscape: Curbing Greenwashing
Greenwashing is regulated under a complex landscape of domestic laws, supranational laws, non-binding guidance documents, complementary self-regulatory codes, and environment-specific codes. Regulators are increasingly cracking down on misleading green claims, and several recent cases of greenwashing litigation have highlighted the legal risks for companies globally.
The Competition Markets Authority (CMA) in the UK, for instance, has opened an investigation into the ‘green’ claims of the fashion sector, and the ASA has banned greenwashing adverts across sectors such as energy, buildings and heating, finance, and transport.
The Way Forward: Towards Genuine Sustainability
In response to the greenwashing accusations, Opportunity Green is calling on cruise companies to stop advertising fossil LNG as a climate solution, arguing that it risks misleading consumers about the true sustainability of their holidays. The NGO is also urging these companies to halt investments into climate-damaging fossil LNG and back their net zero pledges with credible transition plans that include investments into real zero emissions solutions supported by the best available science.
In conclusion, the controversy surrounding LNG’s use as a ‘green’ fuel within the cruise industry is a stark reminder that not all environmental claims are as green as they appear. It underscores the critical need for transparency, regulatory oversight, and public vigilance in holding companies accountable for their environmental impact. It is a call to action for consumers to look beyond the ‘green’ claims and make informed decisions based on solid evidence and trustworthy sources. Only then can we steer towards a genuinely sustainable future.