Written by Josh Jackman Updated on 24 October 2023 ✔ Verra committed the worst act of greenwashing by selling ineffective carbon credits✔ HSBC is aiming for net-zero – but has funnelled £9.7 billion to fossil fuel developers✔ FIFA was reprimanded for failing to deliver a carbon-neutral World CupGreenwashing is the lie that could doom the world. We’ve highlighted the worst offenders, whose greenwashing lies have actively hindered the fight against climate change.These companies have pretended to go green in order to convince consumers they share their eco-friendly beliefs – which encourages these people to buy more of their products.We’ve based our decision on how brazenly a company engaged in greenwashing, and how much damage we estimate it did to the planet. The worst examples of greenwashing at a glance1. Verra failed forests2. Shell exaggerated its green activities3. Keurig paid the price for misleading recycling claims4. FIFA’s ‘carbon-neutral’ World Cup was the most polluting ever5. HSBC funded fossil fuels despite its net-zero pledge6. Petronas used a child’s voice for greenwashing7. Amazon wrapped its sustainable range in single-use plastic8. Ryanair made misleading green statements9. Lufthansa claimed planes protect the future10. Repsol hid its fossil fuel activities behind biofuels11. Etihad said it provides ‘sustainable aviation’1. Verra failed forests94% of rainforest carbon credits sold by Verra – the largest certifier in the world – have reportedly had zero benefit to the climate.A bombshell investigation, carried out by The Guardian, German newspaper Die Zeit and non-profit SourceMaterial, revealed in January that Verra’s rainforest protection programme simply fails to protect rainforests.Of 94.9 million credits claimed – with each credit representing a tonne of carbon emissions – just 5.5 million led to actual carbon reductions.Verra has also allegedly exaggerated the threat to the forests it seeks to protect by around 400%, allowing it to pretend it was reducing more harm than it actually was.The revelations mean dozens of companies that have bought credits from Verra – including Disney, Shell, Gucci, easyJet, and the band Pearl Jam – may not have actually offset their carbon emissions.Verra has strongly disputed the findings.2. Shell exaggerated its green activitiesShell released three adverts stating that the UK (and in one advert, Bristol specifically) was “ready for cleaner energy” and implying that Shell was playing a big part in this shift.The company touted its work to install electric car charging points, establish off-shore wind farms, and supply renewable electricity, with no mention of its fossil fuel activities.The UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) decided all three ads were misleading, because Shell “gave the overall impression that a significant proportion of Shell’s business comprised lower-carbon energy products.”The overwhelming majority of Shell’s activities are in oil and gas, which fuelled its enormous 2022 carbon footprint of 1.2 billion tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions.If it were a country, Shell would be the fifth-largest carbon emitter in the world.3. Keurig paid the price for misleading recycling claimsKeurig agreed a $10 million (£8.1 million) settlement with a group of plaintiffs who said the US manufacturer of coffee makers had misled customers by claiming its plastic single-use pods were recyclable.The plaintiffs stated that local recycling centres weren’t able to process the pods, meaning they were often sent to landfills instead.The company – whose full name is Keurig Dr Pepper – must also now place a disclaimer next to any statement that the pods are recyclable, whether on its website or the pods themselves.The disclaimer reads: “Check Locally – Not Recycled in Many Communities.”75% of any unclaimed funds will go to the environmental non-profit Ocean Conservancy.4. FIFA’s ‘carbon-neutral’ World Cup was the most polluting ever FIFA and Qatar both made the false claim (Source: Qatar2022.qa and Adobe)For years, FIFA boasted that its 2022 tournament in Qatar would be “the first carbon-neutral FIFA World Cup.”It wasn’t – not by a long shot. According to our investigation into the carbon footprint of the World Cup, the tournament was responsible for 4.67 million tonnes of CO2 – making it the most polluting World Cup ever.Complaints over FIFA’s claim from organisations in the UK, Belgium, France, the Netherlands, and Switzerland led to an investigation by the Swiss Fairness Commission.In June 2023, the body announced it had “upheld all five complaints following a complex process.“FIFA was not able to provide proof that the claims were accurate during the proceedings as required by the commission.”To disprove the allegations, FIFA had to prove it had offset all carbon emissions, since that’s what ‘carbon-neutral’ means. It failed to do so.5. HSBC funded fossil fuels despite its net-zero pledgeHSBC is a poster child for greenwashing.Since pledging to reach net-zero by 2030, the bank has approved at least 58 transactions to fossil fuel developers that are worth $12 billion (£9.7 billion) in capital, according to The Guardian.It has also been reprimanded by the ASA for adverts at bus stops that publicised its green activities without mentioning its responsibility for 65.3 million tonnes of CO2 emissions per year.One advert said HSBC was “aiming to provide up to $1 trillion in financing and investment globally to help our clients transition to net zero,” while another stated: “we’re helping to plant two million trees which will lock in 1.25 million tonnes of carbon over their lifetime.”The ASA thought customers would see these ads and take them “to mean that HSBC was making, and intended to make, a positive overall environmental contribution as a company.”The regulator found that wasn’t the case, and that HSBC had misled the public on this point.6. Petronas used a child’s voice for greenwashingPetronas attempted to greenwash its extensive oil and gas activities in an advert that was banned by the ASA.The ad, which attempted to elicit the audience’s sympathy by getting a child to perform the voiceover, admitted that “as the world produced more energy it became nature's problem, and we were part of it.”However, it added that Petronas had become “a progressive energy and solutions partner, enriching lives for a sustainable future.”The ASA said this created the impression that “Petronas was already an energy company that was contributing to a sustainable future by making progress towards emissions reductions and growing the use of renewable energy.”In reality, Petronas was responsible for 54 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions in 2022 alone, according to its own report.The ASA told the Malaysian government-owned oil and gas giant that “the ad must not be broadcast again in its current form.”It also ordered Petronas to “ensure that their future marketing communications did not misleadingly omit material information.”7. Amazon wrapped its sustainable range in single-use plasticAmazon’s Aware range was exposed for its environmentally dubious practices, despite being sold as a “sustainable” initiative.An investigation by The Telegraph found these supposedly climate-friendly products were often wrapped in single-use plastic and shipped from thousands of miles away.Amazon claims the range is “carbon-neutral,” due to offsetting, while the company’s Matt Taddy said when it was launched that it would “contribute toward a more sustainable future.”Green Party peer Baroness Jenny Jones told The Telegraph that the Aware range represented “greenwashing on a grotesque scale.”She added: “Putting a green gloss on individually plastic-wrapped items from half a world away is not going to cut it. As for offsetting, it often doesn’t work.”Amazon has a history of hurting the planet. The company admitted releasing 71.5 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent in 2021, which was more than Austria, Israel, and Singapore – plus around 150 other countries.This was a 40% increase on 2019, when Amazon emitted 51.2 million tonnes.8. Ryanair made misleading green statements (Source: Ryanair)Ryanair has changed the way it advertises its carbon compensation scheme after an investigation by the Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM).The ACM found it was misleading for Ryanair to put the phrase “Fly greener to” before customers’ destinations in a bid to get them to offset their carbon emissions.The ACM’s Edwin van Houten explained: “Businesses must be honest and clear about the sustainability claims they make. Even with CO2-compensation schemes, flying remains a highly polluting way of travelling.“Airlines may offer CO2 compensation schemes, but they cannot give the impression that CO2 compensation will make flying sustainable.”In response, Ryanair has replaced “Fly greener to” with fact-based statements like “compensate your estimated CO2 emissions” and removed misleading graphics like green leaves.The airline also now displays the calculation and amount of CO2 it’ll compensate for, explains which carbon-offsetting projects your money will be spent on, and shows the projects’ independent certifications.Ryanair also admits on its corporate site that “a contribution towards emissions compensation won’t make the flight itself ‘greener.’”9. Lufthansa claimed planes protect the future (Source: Lufthansa)The ASA found this advertising campaign from Germany’s national airline Lufthansa was misleading, and that the company didn’t back up its own environmental claims.In its ruling in March, the ASA said customers were “likely” to view the phrase ‘protecting its future’ over a photo of a plane as an assurance that Lufthansa’s flights were environmentally friendly.“We considered the claim was likely to be understood by consumers to mean that Lufthansa had already taken significant mitigating steps to ensure that the net environmental impact of their business was not harmful,” the organisation explained.Lufthansa does have publicly stated green goals: it aims to cut its carbon emissions in half by 2030, compared to 2019, and to become completely carbon-neutral by 2050.But as the ASA pointed out, none of this was explained or even referenced in the advert.The ASA told Lufthansa to “ensure that the basis of future environmental claims was made clear and did not give a misleading impression of the impact caused by travelling with the airline and that robust substantiation was held to support them.”10. Repsol hid its fossil fuel activities behind biofuelsRepsol tried to greenwash its fossil fuel activities with an advert on The Financial Times’ website.In the ad, the Spanish oil and gas company told viewers “we are developing biofuels and synthetic fuels to achieve net-zero emissions,” before showing a car and the message: “Renewable fuels for more sustainable mobility.”The ASA said this implied Repsol was making these eco-friendly fuels a significant part of its business, when it barely makes a dent compared to the fossil fuels extracted from its 40,660 acres of oil and gas fields.Repsol was responsible for 171 million tonnes of greenhouse gases in 2021 – more than the Philippines, the Netherlands, or Nigeria.The company was also rebuked for not clarifying that its green fuels formed only part of a strategy to reach net-zero emissions.11. Etihad said it provides ‘sustainable aviation’The ASA reprimanded Etihad Airways for two Facebook adverts which claimed that “we are taking a louder, bolder approach to sustainable aviation.”Like Lufthansa, Etihad was taken to task for making claims that would be seen more positively by the public than was fair, and for failing to support its claims.The adverts both pointed to Etihad being named Airlineratings.com’s environmental airline of the year, and one of them stated that “we are cutting back on single-use plastics and are flying the most modern and efficient planes. Flights with a smaller footprint.”This wasn’t enough to justify Etihad’s use of the phrase “sustainable aviation.”Etihad, which is the United Arab Emirates’ national carrier, is aiming to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, and a 20% reduction by 2025 – but it didn’t include this in its adverts.The ASA said “neither ad mentioned Etihad’s desire to be ‘net-zero’ by 2050 or positioned the claim ‘sustainable aviation’ as a long-term aspiration.”SummaryThe days of greenwashing are coming to an end.Many more companies will get away with this shameful practice, but the public, regulators, and the court system are wising up.Firms: take actions against climate change and end your polluting activities. Then you can brag about it. Written by: Josh Jackman Lead Writer Josh has written about eco-friendly home improvements and climate change for the past four years. His work has been displayed on the front page of the Financial Times, he's been interviewed by BBC One's Rip-Off Britain, and he regularly features in The Telegraph and on BBC Radio.