How Sustainable are Industries?

Babette van den Berg


Hello everyone!

For this blog, I wanted to tell you about a book I read a while ago. The book, from Kathrin Hartmann, is called “Die Grüne Lüge”. I have read it in Dutch, called “Groene Leugens: duurzaamheid als verkooptruc”. The author, Kathrin Hartmann, travels across the world, together with producer Werner Boote, to investigate the differences between what companies or industries say they do, and what they actually do. Unfortunately for non-Dutch and non-German readers, I do not think the book is published in English.

Sustainability and sustainable products have become more and more popular over the years. Who doesn’t want to do good for the environment? While most people have good intentions, it isn’t always as simple as it looks. Big companies such as BP (now Beyond Petroleum, but formerly British Petroleum) and Nespresso love to show people all the things they do to help the people and the planet. In reality, they are doing the exact opposite. For example, a trend that has been growing in the past few years is clothing made from plastic that comes out of the sea. While the idea seems nice and with good intentions, this is a little different in reality. Sea-plastic in itself is insufficient to produce a decent piece of clothing, and thus new plastic is added, which rejects the point of the entire product. Additionally, these pieces of clothing are often fast fashion and will thus end up in landfill or in the ocean again. Simply put, these clothing producers are trying to solve a problem that they create themselves!

The book consists of seven chapters, and each chapter is focused on a different case. Besides the aforementioned clothing industry, Hartmann writes about many other subjects. Subjects such as the oil spill at Deepwater Horizon in 2010, Nespresso with George Clooney as their frontman, the palm-oil industry, the meat industry, and even how governments support non-sustainable businesses. I will not go into detail about each case, but one thing that stood out to me is the hypocrisy in so many industries that I never even thought about. For example, labels such as “certified sustainable palm oil” are often given to products whilst they do not even meet all the criteria. The question also arises: if sustainable palm oil even exists? Spoiler alert, the answer is no. 

Governments and big businesses love to support the idea of “sustainable” economic growth, but growth can never be sustainable. Growth in itself is always linked with the consumption resources, and how innovative it may be. In addition, these resources cannot be obtained without destroying nature.

Hartmann also points out the consumers and the role they play. Consumers often want to keep consuming, preferably more and more, while still trying to be good for people and the planet. A fun bridge to psychology: this is a nice example of cognitive dissonance. Consumers are often aware of how messed up, for example, the meat or clothing industry is, but still want to eat meat and buy many new clothes. These green lies provide the perfect solution: consumers can keep consuming and not destroy the planet! If only it was this simple…

This book was published in 2018. Something to perhaps think about is how the actions and findings in the book could be seen since the COVID pandemic.

I will bring the book to the POLIS room, so if people want to read it, you can get it there!