Elon Musk was finally kinda sorta right about something, maybe

During the week, Elon Musk made headlines (including this one on Mumbrella) after telling those who had pulled advertising from X to “go f**k yourself”, taking a particular shot at the Disney CEO, and claiming these boycotters would be responsible for the demise of the once-mighty social media platform. But that was the boring part of what he said.

Musk made the heated comments onstage during The New York Times DealBook Summit where he was being interviewed by journalist Andrew Ross Sorkin.

There’s a five-minute clip of that particular part of the 90-minute interview, and it’s fantastic entertainment.

Musk wears the black hat well, showing himself to have the most power and the least responsibility – and coming across like an intergalactic villain, dropping lines like “let the chips fall where they may” as well as oddly disconnected phrases like “tell it to Earth” and “let’s see how Earth responds to that”.

He also seemingly cannot conceive that the latest and largest advertising boycott – itself a direct response to antisemitic conspiracy theories he endorsed on the platform – will in any way be seen as a result of his own erratic behaviour, instead believing that ‘Earth’ will blame those companies who boycott X if the platform ceases to exist, because of the fast-diminishing advertising revenue.

But, right near the end of this twisting train of thought, Tesla is brought up, and — after correctly pointing out the electric car succeeded without advertising — he made the following mighty claim.

“Tesla currently sells twice as much, in terms of electric vehicles, than the rest of the electric car makers in the United States combined. Tesla’s done more to help the environment than all other companies combined.

“It would be fair to say, therefore, as a leader of the company, I’ve done more for the environment than any single human on Earth.”

It’s a massive claim – and one you could take even further by arguing that Tesla accelerated the trend of electric vehicles, so his impact goes beyond those direct sales alone. It is, therefore, arguably true. Elon Musk is Captain Planet.

Maybe he has done more for the environment than anyone in the entire galaxy!

When asked by Sorkin how he feels personally about this good he has done for the Earth — assumedly in an attempt to elicit some reply of boastful pride –- Musk makes his actual point.

“I’m saying, what I care about is the reality of goodness, not the perception of it.

“And, what I see all over the place is people who care about looking good – while doing evil. F**k them.”

Quick, drop the mic, Elon!

Of course, he doesn’t, and he goes on to say a bunch of other less-incisive rabble. Also, his maths is off in regards to the comparative EV sales in the US, plus his claims of environmental glory conveniently sidestep the complicated issue of mass battery production and disposal, lithium mining, and all those Tesla factories that have to be built by pumping evil emissions into the sky.

Of course, he is also blasting rockets into space, and – unless I’m missing something – there aren’t electric rocket refuel stations dotted throughout the universe as of time of publication.

Yet his central point stands. The reality of goodness is often very much at odds with the perception of it.

In regards to environmental claims, it is happening so often that it’s already been given a slightly cringeworthy but inarguably evocative term: greenwashing.

Greenwashing is, put simply, the act of pretending you are doing more for (or less to) the planet than you actually are. It’s trendy to be green, but it’s also really inconvenient and costly. So companies say they are green, when in actuality, they are closer to baby-poo colour.

It’s so persuasive that the ACCC made greenwashing their ‘compliance and enforcement priority’ for the year – which is basically the equivalent of their Macquarie Dictionary word of the year – celebrating the occasion with a huge sweep of company websites in search of misleading environmental and sustainability marketing claims.

The consumer watchdog hit leading retailers and service providers across a number of sectors: energy, automotive, household products, appliances, food and drink packaging, cosmetics, clothing, and footwear. It was quite the sweeping.

It was, also, as they say in the sweeping industry, a bloody bonanza!

The ACCC found that 57% of the businesses they reviewed were making misleading environmental claims. Another way of saying “57% of businesses” is to simply say “most businesses.”

Most businesses operating in Australia lie about what they are doing to help the environment. That’s a real styrofoam cup of non-sustainable coffee in the face, isn’t it?

The worst offenders were the cosmetics companies, clothing and footwear companies, and the food and drink sectors.

So, as long as you don’t wear clothing, groom yourself, or consume liquids and solids – you’re treading fairly lightly on the earth at the moment. The rest of us aren’t, even if we’re really trying to.

The anger at this kind of thing is understandable – after all, if we as a society are forced to put up with paper straws, then the corporations had better be playing along, too, especially if they are boasting about doing so.

They aren’t, though. And it’s hard to turn greenwashing claims into actual legal action. The ACCC knows that most companies are full of shit (baby-poo colour or not?), but it’s hard to prove.

And so, the rewards of fudging your green credentials may be deemed to outweigh the risks of being caught.

Perhaps the silliest example of this in recent times was the ACCC’s first attempt at bringing a ‘greenwashing’ case.

Of course, the term ‘greenwashing’ wasn’t in the common parlance back in December 2016, when the consumer watchdog alleged Kimberly-Clark Australia made false and misleading claims about their ‘flushable’ Kleenex Cottonelle toilet wipes: Namely, that they were, indeed, flushable.

“The ACCC alleged that by labelling these products as ‘flushable’, consumers would believe the Kleenex wipes products had similar characteristics to toilet paper and would break up or disintegrate in a similar timeframe.”

Fair enough, too. Especially seeing ‘Kleenex’ is also one of those brand names that is used interchangeably for the entire generic line of products (see also: Hoover, Esky, Frisbee, Dumpster) and therefore is even more misleadingly deemed to be flushable.

Not so. In 2019 (these things take time), the trial judge found Kimberly-Clark Australia had not made false and misleading claims about the flushability of the wipes. Case dismissed. “Flush that, justice”, the Kimberly-Clark lawyer cackled. (I can only assume.)

After all, the flushable wipes could be flushed. The untold damage they caused once flushed was beside the point.

Technically, batteries are edible, too.

The judge ruled that, “to prove its case against Kimberly-Clark, the ACCC was required to prove that the Kleenex Wipes had in fact caused or contributed to real harm in particular instances.”

In other words, where are the tangled knots of unspeakable filth clogging up septic tanks, and waterways? Where are the fish choking? Where is the evidence?

There was evidence, of course, from Australian water authorities who testified they face “significant problems when non-suitable products are flushed down the toilet as they contribute to blockages in household and municipal sewerage systems, known as ‘fatbergs’”.

First, let’s pause and consider the word fatberg. I don’t like it – it’s too descriptive. Any thought of sewage blockages should be vague at best, not vivid and vomit-inducing.

Now, the reason the ACCC case failed was simply that there wasn’t a specific example of a specific Kleenex Wipe being flushed and leading to specific damage. “In particular instances” is the key term here.

Nevermind that, according to Polly Hemming, a senior researcher at the Australia Institute, “You could see with your own eyes that these wipes were choking up sewers – they pulled seven metres of them out of a Queensland sewer,” adding: “It’s absurd when physical evidence has no weight in these matters.”

On appeal, the ACCC “sought clarification from the Full Federal Court on whether proof of actual harm is required to establish that a claim is misleading.”

A lie is still a lie, irregardless or whether it causes harm – or can be shown to cause harm. But common sense and the law are two different things.

Even the Full Federal Court judgement seems to acknowledge how silly the ruling was, noting. “One response would be to introduce legislation or standards governing the characteristics of what can and what cannot be marketed or sold as ‘flushable’.”


Thankfully, this past year has seen the legislation tighten up. Fines of up to $50 million can now be issued for greenwashing, and the ACCC has drafted guidance for businesses regarding greenwashing.

I’ve also drafted some guidance for businesses planning to lie about their green credentials: Don’t do it. Not because it’s evil – that’s a strong word, although it is definitely morally dubious. Don’t do it, because even if you think you’ll get away with it, you won’t.

As Morrissey once sang: “There’s always someone, somewhere, with a big nose who knows, and trips you up and laughs when you fall.”

Greenwashing is the actual word of the year. Everyone is talking about it, everyone is looking for it, everyone is pointing the finger. The internet loves a pile-on.

Remember when Joel Madden from Good Charlotte did a PETA ad, and then a KFC ad?

Remember when McDonald’s introduced paper straws that were actually non-recyclable?

Remember when Active Super touted its ethical and environment-friendly investments while holding interests in tobacco, coal, and gas? (ASIC are currently suing them.)

We all noticed. None of it made for blistering PR when it was revealed.

Here’s a wild idea: If you say you are doing a good thing – then do the good thing.

Let’s see how Earth responds to that.

Enjoy your week.

For the rest of the week’s news, wrapped into an audible nugget, listen to the latest Mumbrellacast.

The latest episode delves into what the Private Media redundancies say about the current media climate, how Australia’s creative industry wants to clean up its act, and the founder behind Jim’s Mowing booming beauty business.


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