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Greenwashing is generally when someone conveys a false impression or misleading information about how a company’s products or services are environmentally sound. Often it involves using terms like green, sustainable, humane, safe, or regenerative, etc. when those making the claim are on balance harming the environment.

One of the worst forms of greenwashing is called growthwashing, or hiding the impact of population growth when making a claim. When a company or nonprofit makes any claim related to the environment, check to see if they are accounting for the way outdated family policy, and the growth it creates, is undoing that progress. The claims usually omit the fact that population growth is undoing the what is being claimed, increasing demand and consumption in a way that is causing ecocide. That means those making the claims chose family policies that put more animals in factory farms, research labs, and puppy mills, ensured more children would be born and raised in conditions of abuse, suffering and deprivation, and policies that also ensured each person had less of a voice in their political systems – the systems many groups point to as the best source of change.

They growth many claims hid (and sometimes promoted) undid roughly three-quarters of the reductions in carbon emissions achieved since 1990 by increased efficiency and alternative energy production.


Those lies will help lead to the death of millions in the future.

As we describe in the letter linked here, Exxon, and its claims, are a great example. They use a basic system of family policies that further vast birth inequity, a form of white supremacy, and which ensure ecocide. This means literally using children to destroy the environment they need to survive in order to create growth-based profits for a few. This means growthwashing is also a form of wokewashing, to the extent it exacerbates birth inequity by hiding more equitable solutions, like baby bonds. Such inequity is actually a vestige of historical inequity that can be traced back to slavery.

Growthwashing, as explained in the letter to Exxon, relies on hiding the fundamental baseline for cost/benefit analysis. That is what makes it especially lethal – it skews whether we owe things like climate reparations, the amount owed, and how they should be used.

The growth in the chart below – at the most fundamental level – made some rich, some poor, and ensured the climate crisis would fall hardest on those least responsible for it.

Doing so is destructive to the environment on multiple levels, as growth has undone almost three-quarters of the reduction in climate emissions attempted in recent years through things like energy transitions, ensured children are born in conditions that violate the Children’s Rights Convention (which mean they will be less able to deal with worsening climates), widened the massive gulf between rich and poor (which largely tracks along race lines), and debilitated the voices of everyday people in their democracies.

Growthwashing is one of the worst ways to exacerbate the climate crisis, and it prevents reforms that could save millions of lives.

Growthwashing does something else that is uniquely harmful. It hides the impact human rights can have on our lives when we truly understand them, and the way fairness – first and foremost in our creation – overrides conflicting rights and interests, like property rights to wealth, much of which was made by externalizing costs on future generations. Growthwashing hides that we cannot separate our values from who we should be.

Growthwashing hides what we owe to future generations, and instead it enables our quiet exploitation of them.

Growthwashing, unlike simple greenwashing, involves robbing us of our freedoms in a variety of ways, in addition to harming us through our environment. It hides our valid claim to resources for young women to plan their families in a way that can save millions of lives.

Why growthwash at all?

Businesses, and many wealth investors who also control the messaging and campaigns at nonprofits, make money from unsustainable population growth that creates lots of cheap labor, hungry consumers, and a larger tax base. They can make more money by quietly undoing with one hand the benefits to the environment they claim to be creating with the other hand.

I have sat and chatted with wealthy funders backing vegan food companies and nonprofits that made wildly misleading claims about the social and environmental benefits of the products, and who were making money on population -driven growth in markets. They knew what they were doing. I have seen national nonprofits bury research showing the harm growthwashing does, for fear of what their funders – many of whom are moving massive and unearned privilege to their rich white kids – would do if it were revealed. No only were they lying about the impacts of their philanthropy, but they were doing so in a way that harmed poor kids to enrich their own kids through growth-based investments.

TAKE ACTION: One way to address growthwashing is by requiring the Environmental, Social and Governance reporting requirements include family policies and their impacts. Urge the Biden Administration to require this.

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