Greenwashing + Anti-Capitalism + Decolonization + Food Justice at Concordia University

By Le Frigo Vert

As a fee-levy group at Concordia, Le Frigo Vert operates as an anti-capitalist alternative health and community centre. We are a workers’ run collective with the goals of providing quality, nourishing food, and  alternative medicine to students and marginalized people, challenging corporate involvement and domination of food production and distribution, and creating and promoting environmentally and socially sustainable alternatives to the current capitalist market.

To accomplish these goals, we have a store and community space where we sell health food and products at a reduced markup, and offer education with respect to health, food production, processing and politics. We work to connect people to where their food comes from so they are more involved, invested, and aware of how their food is produced. We mobilize for active involvement in environmental and social justice politics as well as support and collaborate with other groups who do the same. Our work is guided by the principles of anti-oppression.

Central to our politics is the idea that environmentalism must be rooted in social justice and especially in decolonization, as it is stolen land we are talking about when we reference the environment of Turtle Island (“North America”). For these reasons, we are critical of greenwashing and green capitalism. We believe these strategies distract, divert, and derail environmental movements. These strategies make people feel better about capitalism or corporations/institutions by co-opting the energy people have for the environment, while enabling these corporations/institutions to continue profiting from the land and people.

“Greenwashing (a compound word modelled on “whitewash”), also called “green sheen,” is a form of spin in which green PR or green marketing is deceptively used to promote the perception that an organization’s products, aims, or policies are environmentally friendly. Evidence that an organization is greenwashing often comes from pointing out the spending differences: when significantly more money or time has been spent advertising being “green” (that is, operating with consideration for the environment), than is actually spent on environmentally sound practices. Greenwashing efforts can range from changing the name or label of a product to evoke the natural environment on a product that contains harmful chemicals, to multimillion-dollar advertising campaigns portraying highly polluting energy companies as eco-friendly. Critics of the practice suggest that the rise of greenwashing, paired with ineffective regulation, contributes to consumer skepticism of all green claims, and diminishes the power of the consumer in driving companies toward greener solutions for manufacturing processes and business operations.” (Wikipedia)

“Eco-capitalism, also known as environmental capitalism or green capitalism, is the view that capital exists in nature as natural capital on which all wealth depends, and therefore, market-based government policy instruments (such as a carbon tax) should be used to resolve environmental problems.” (Wikipedia)

The environment cannot and should not be boiled down to a dollar amount, nor should capitalist markets and corporations be trusted to protect the environment. This is just an extension of the capitalist and colonizing mindset that is hungry to devour everything it can, all in the pursuit of more and more wealth for fewer and fewer people.

Greenwashing and green capitalism is currently happening at Concordia. The university started its contract with Aramark in 2016, and was a finalist for the Fair Trade Campus of the Year Award for Canada in 2017. Concordia writes about Aramark on their webpage about food sustainability at Concordia: “Aramark, Concordia’s food service provider, is committed to making environmentally responsible decisions throughout its operations in order to minimize its footprint while still providing quality food and service.”

Aramark is one of the largest food service companies in the world. Together, this corporation and the university are giving the impression that business is being done in a way that is ethical and beneficial for the environment, as well as for the people who work in the food production and service. In fact, the opposite is true. Aramark is known for providing such dismal, low quality food to prisons (one of Aramark’s many contracts is providing food for the prison industrial complex) that it was responsible for starting prison riots. Aramark has over $27 million in contracts providing food services for oil and gas exploration facilities. The company is also known for using tactics of intimidation and for creating an “environment of fear” for workers in Aramark’s cafeterias who attempted to unionize. The partnership between this company and Concordia is presented as environmentally and socially friendly, but the truth is that the university is supporting and enabling a corporation to continue its exploitation of people and the environment.

People will argue that at least these corporations are making some efforts, like selling fair trade products. But by giving these corporations huge contracts without requiring them to fundamentally change their practices, we are encouraging them to continue the destruction of our planet and communities.

We believe true food and social justice must be grassroots, and must be done with Indigenous leadership and consultation. We believe strong, empowered communities involved in their own food production and preservation are the antidote to capitalist models of food production. Corporations do not care about the food we eat or the people growing and making it. They care about profit above all else.