Sustainability Corner: Green Marketing: An illusion or fact–COP26 Edition

Chief Sustainability Officer
  • “The choices we make can have lasting consequences.”Joan Bauer, American author

Could it be that the hype surrounding alternative energy sources is overrated and that each of these energy sources has significant drawbacks? Could it be that the reason why we place our hopes and dreams for a ‘greener’ future in technological solutions is merely an excuse for us to maintain our indulgent lifestyles? Would it not make sense, if we cared about the environment, that we would cut back on our energy consumption and needs that have been met for the most part through the usage of conventional energy sources like fossil fuels?

Herein lies the dilemma, is green marketing so idealized that we can’t see the wood for the trees? But for starters, let’s unpack what green marketing is? The concept of green marketing expresses the narrative that alternative energy sources are marketed as the solution and ‘be all’ to all our problems by the media, academics, interest groups, companies, and even countries. And if truth be told, green marketing is omnipresent in our public discourse. But then the question might be, why is that? Is it because decision-makers and business leaders see the potential economic benefits of new energy technologies? Governments and companies hope the alternative energy industry will invigorate their economies, improve employment figures, and generate new revenue streams.

Even more importantly, the media, academics, and specific interest groups seem to vehemently support alternative energy technologies without seeking the facts and the long-term sustainability and feasibility. Instead, they rely on information and research provided by alternative energy companies, institutions, and public relations firms instead of engaging in proper analysis, debating the information, and examining the future’s actual consequences. So, it could be that we don’t dig deep enough to find the downsides of alternative energy forms.

As things stand…

Therefore, all experts, academics, and society at large agree that we need alternative energy solutions. In contrast to the conventional energy sources, sustainable energy sources are thought to fulfill our current energy demands without depleting a resource that future generations will need to create energy. Furthermore, alternative energy-generating technologies, such as solar, wind, hydro, hydrogen, and biofuels, aim to reduce emissions of CO2, thereby reducing global warming. Another goal is reducing humanity’s use of and dependence on fossil fuels to refute their ill effects.

Classically, alternative energy sources can be split into two main groups: regrowable and renewable energy sources, also known as regrowables and renewables. Let’s take a closer look at regrowables. At first glance, regrowables look like an excellent replacement for our dwindling conventional energy sources. One classic example is firewood. We burn it for heat, and more trees grow to replace the ones we chopped down. As long as there are trees, we’ll never run out.

Today, biofuels, such as biomass, biogases, bio alcohol, and biodiesel, are all based on the concept of converting plant and animal matter into energy and then regrowing that matter after it’s harvested. At the moment, these biofuels do not contribute significantly to energy demands. But, despite its benefits, the production of biofuels is risky in terms of food security and climate change. But why is that?

Because farmers forego producing food crops to produce lucrative biofuels and, as researchers have warned, this will drive up global food prices, severely hurting poor people worldwide. What’s more, biofuel production can accelerate climate change, which would completely negate the desired effect of biofuels in the first place. In Brazil, for example, farmers are so eager to produce biofuels that they plant them on land formerly dedicated to sugarcane. And to make up for the shortfall in food production, they cut down rainforests for sugarcane plantations. But food crops like sugarcane don’t absorb sunlight as rainforests, which means climate change is exacerbated.

According to a British study, two-thirds of the wind turbines built in Manchester will result in a net increase in carbon. The optimal way to mitigate this is to place the turbines on highly windy spots, but most of them are already in use to meet just 1 percent of the global energy demand.

Now let us delve into renewables. Renewable energy stems from naturally replenishing sources, such as sunlight, wind, geothermal heat, waves, and tides. Renewable technologies seek to harness these types of energy and convert them to useable forms of power for all manner of human endeavors.

While renewables often provide a cleaner energy source than conventional sources, several challenges need to be overcome when they are implemented. One of the chief limitations of renewables is that the prevailing weather and topographical conditions dictate which technologies can be employed. For instance, hydropower is an excellent source of clean energy, but if you find yourself in a desert, you will have to look to other sources to meet your energy needs. Furthermore, as renewable technologies are often less established than conventional energy technologies, the upfront capital costs can be comparatively high.

Two sides of the debate

Perhaps the main trap in alternative energy sources is that, although they may be renewable or regrowable, the equipment and processes required actually to generate power from them are not. Therefore, we can also examine the carbon footprint of wind power plants, meaning how much CO2 they produce overall. We might think their footprint would be lower than conventional sources because the turbines themselves don’t produce CO2.  But we would be wrong. CO2 emissions during the production of the turbines are so high that it often more than negates wind power’s benefits over conventional energy sources.

Conversely, to attempt to be objective also presents its own dilemma. It may seem like we’re reducing the energy debate to a battle between alternative and conventional energy sources. Still, in doing so, we overlook simpler, non-technical alternative solutions, such as car-sharing, commuting by bike, and other energy-saving measures.

The stark reality is that as our societies continue to cling to fossil fuels, even as their supply dwindles, it will require increasingly risky extraction and energy production methods. These will indeed have an environmental impact that will further accelerate climate change. These polar standpoints are what make the global energy debate often so confusing. World and business leaders, environmental groups, and corporations are all shamelessly promoting their own agendas, so it’s hard to know what’s fact and what’s fiction. Hence, due to this myriad of competing ideologies and interests at play, current energy policy decisions must be based on a rational and objective cost-benefit analysis.

In the end…

No single renewable energy source can replace fossil fuels, and we need a combination of renewables. Thus, a profound shift toward renewable energy sources like biofuels and wind and solar power is inevitable. The only question is how quickly the change will happen. Thanks to technological advancements, the price of producing renewable energy is falling to competitive levels. For example, the entire process from production to sales to installation is becoming far more efficient in the solar industry, making solar panels a lot more affordable.

The potential of alternative energy sources can’t be based on their current status alone. This is misleading. Many players in the energy debate have their own agendas. Therefore, they often deliberately use misleading arguments or misinterpret data from scientific studies to bolster their claim that something will happen quickly.

In short, with alternative energy sources, we must go beyond the numbers and past disappointments and focus on future potential. Surely, we cannot take a backseat and wait for the day when alternative energy sources fully triumph over conventional energy sources. That will take a long time to make this transition, which is why alternative energy sources require political support now.

In conclusion, the likelihood of any change in global energy production and consumption will happen gradually. Therefore, the decisions taken about the future of energy sources should only be founded on rational, patient analysis. And greater emphasis must be placed on decreased consumption.


Shere, Jeremy (2013): Renewable: The World-Changing Power of Alternative Energy. St. Martin’s Press.

Smil, Vaclav (2010): Energy Myths and Realities: Bringing Science to the Energy Policy Debate. AEI Press.

Zehner, Ozzie (2012): Green Illusions: The Dirty Secrets of Clean Energy and the Future of Environmentalism. University of Nebraska Press.

About the Writers:

Romein  is a (self-confessed) Pan-Africanist by heart. His diversified professional career spans many different sectors, i.e., local government, mining, consultancy, construction, advertising, and development cooperations. He has an MBA in CSR and various qualifications in engineering, environmental health, and leadership. Romein is the Head: Business for Development at PIRON Global Development, Germany ( Contact him via ([email protected])

Ebenezer  is a Development Communication Specialist, MSME & SDG Enthusiast, Finance & Investment Nomad and a WriterPreneur. He`s Country Director (Ag) of PIRON Global Development GmbH, Ghana (   Contact him via ([email protected])

 Francois  is a seasoned engineer with vast experience in the Utility space and a keen interest in renewable energy. He is an active environmental steward and personifies the new age ‘professional’ and career adventurer. Francois is also an eager tennis player with a competitive streak. Contact him via ([email protected])


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