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Obstacle 4 - The conceptual distortion created by the overvalued "green" actions

Updated December 2021

Numerous “green” actions to reduce the “impact per person” are recommended again and again by both organizations (e.g., ActNow campaign by United Nations 2018) and the media (e.g., GreenMatch 2021; Minimalist Vegan 2021): live car free, reduce flights, switch to renewable energies, switch to a vegan diet, high investments in pollution control, recycle garbage, forbid disposable plastics, tax overpacked products, avoid waste of food, etc.


The obstacle does not reside in these “green” actions to reduce the “impact per person” (many of them are really necessary) but in the illusion created in the public that sustainability can be achieved by just following them. The public is brainwashed with this illusion and everybody already knows that using a private car instead of public transportation is bad for the environment, while ignoring that having one more child is twenty times worse (Figure 1). There is a confusion -even among scientists- between “necessary” and “sufficient”. As discussed in Obstacle 2, the recommended “green” actions may be “necessary” but by far are not “sufficient” (Figure 2).

Furthermore, some proposed "green actions" by media and gray literature are absurd: people should renounce to what they need or enjoy in order to allow world population to grow and grow and grow ... (Figure 3).


This conceptual distortion is also promoted by greenwashing: words such as “eco”, “green”, “environmentally friendly”, “carbon neutral” are falsely added to beverages, foods, clothes, detergents, hotels, whole companies…even to biocides (Heras et al. 2020; Vieira et al. 2020). The “green” characterization improves the eco-feeling of the consumer while removing the responsibility to actually act in a sustainable way: selecting an “eco” detergent is a more frivolous decision than having less children.

CO2 potential savings.jpg

Figure 1. Calculated savings in tons CO2 equivalent per year from varios individual actions in developed countries.

(redrawn from Wynes and Nicholas 2017)

Figure 2. Schematic representation of the impact of humankind on biosphere during the XXI Century if population continues to grow as expected, due to the fact that the impact added by each new person is higher than the reduction obtained by reducing impact per person.

Caricature green actions.JPG

Figure 3.  Caricature of exaggerated proposals on reducing "impact per person": people should renounce to what they need or enjoy in order to allow world population to grow and grow and grow ...

Schema impact of population continues to grow..jpg


GreenMatch (2021) 30 ways to be more eco friendly in 2021.  GreenMatch Website, accessed May 2021.

Heras I, O Boiral and A Diaz (2020) Environmental management certification and environmental performance: greening or greenwashing ? Busin. Strategy Environ. 29(6):2829-2841.

Minimalist Vegan (2021) 100+ simple tips to live more sustainable lifestyle. Minimalist Vegan Website, accessed May 2021.

United Nations (2018) ActNow Campain. ActNow WebSite, accessed 5 2021. 

Vieira S, M Sobral, A Ribeiro et al. (2020) Concepts and forms of greenwashing: a systematic review. Environ, Sci. Europe 32(19).

Wynes S and K Nicholas (2017) The climate mitigation gap: education and government recommendations miss the most effective individual actions. Environ. Res. Letters 12:074024.

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