Wash and spin cycle threats to tropical biodiversity

Koh, Lian Pin, Ghazoul, Jaboury, Butler, Rhett A, Laurance, William F., Sodhi, Navjot S., Matero-Verga, Javier, and Bradshaw, Corey J.A. (2010) Wash and spin cycle threats to tropical biodiversity. Biotropica, 42 (1). pp. 67-71.

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Tropical deforestation is rampant (Bradshaw et al. 2009), and is increasingly being driven by industrial-scale logging, mining, and agricultural expansion, in addition to the subsistence activities of rural communities (Butler & Laurance 2008). As consumers, we ourselves shoulder some of the blame in that we are often the market that these industrial enterprises seek to satisfy. Recognizing this, we must balance our consumer demands with our environmental concerns. To do so, we need to be critical of information presented to us by either environmental or industrial interest groups before making our consumer, investment, or policy decisions.

Both corporations and environmental organizations run sophisticated public relations campaigns, the credibility and objectivity of which are often difficult to verify. Corporations’ glossy brochures, slick websites, and cheerful videos serve to reassure consumers, undercut protests, and question the credibility of green activists (Munshi & Kurian 2005). When such promotional material has little basis in fact, or is at least disingenuous, companies are accused of ‘greenwashing’—a term coined by American environmentalist Jay Westerveld in 1986. We use the greenwashing term to define activities that misleadingly give the impression of environmentally sound management and which thereby deflect attention away from the continued pursuit of environmentally destructive activities.

Yet environmental groups and activists sometimes make equally exaggerated claims in their campaigns—in effect engaging in environmental scaremongering and propaganda or what we term ‘blackwashing’—misleading and unverified accusations of avoidable environmental degradation by corporations. In the short term, blackwashing can focus attention, make headlines, raise the profile of environmental debates, and might ultimately increase donations to charitable concerns. In the longer term, blackwashing exposed for what it really is could diminish the trust invested in environmental groups and more generally undermine public support for conservation.

In light of the current global economic recession, which is likely to increase competition for dwindling conservation funds in the face of continued tropical deforestation and other forms of environmental degradation, there is increasing need for the general public to hold both corporations and environmental groups to account in terms of delivering credible, well-substantiated, and documented evidence. Here we argue that greenwashing by some corporations and blackwashing by some environmental activists could hinder conservation outcomes through the erosion of positive public perception and the creation of consumer apathy. We as scientists have a particular responsibility to evaluate critically and objectively the claims made by both parties, while being mindful of our own personal biases.

Item ID: 10984
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1744-7429
Keywords: tropical biology, conservation, corporations, environmental groups, greenwahing, tropical forests
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Date Deposited: 09 Aug 2010 02:14
FoR Codes: 05 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES > 0502 Environmental Science and Management > 050202 Conservation and Biodiversity @ 100%
SEO Codes: 96 ENVIRONMENT > 9608 Flora, Fauna and Biodiversity > 960899 Flora, Fauna and Biodiversity of Environments not elsewhere classified @ 100%
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