21 September 2023

Citizenwashing, what it is and how to spot it



Citizenwashing, what it is and how to spot it


In our past online discussion titled "Citizenwashing, what it is and how to spot it," held on 21 September 2023, we delved into the critical yet often overlooked phenomenon of Citizenwashing.

This event, part of our enlightening series "Building a Green and Just Future for All," brought together leading voices to explore the intricate ways Citizenwashing shapes public discourse, dilutes genuine democratic engagement, and impacts environmental decision-making.

Key Takeaways & Expert Insights:

  • Defining Citizenwashing: Our exploration began with an in-depth look at what Citizenwashing entails — the misuse of "citizen" in policy rhetoric to falsely imply public endorsement. This practice, as highlighted in Ruby Silk’s article from July 13, 2022, misleads the public, eroding trust and undermining the legitimacy of democratic processes.

  • Expert Contributions:

    • Frederik Hafen of the European Environmental Bureau provided a foundational understanding, setting the stage for a comprehensive discussion on Citizenwashing and its implications.
    • Hilmi Tekoglu of SOLIDAR scrutinised Citizens’ Participation in Europe’s Sustainability Agenda, critiquing the often ceremonial nature of public consultations and emphasising the REAL DEAL project's criteria for meaningful engagement.
    • Camille Dobler from Missions Publiques examined the Conference on the Future of Europe (CoFoE), pondering its legitimacy and potential as a Citizenwashing exercise without meaningful follow-up.
    • Margarida Martins, also from the EEB, showcased specific instances of Citizenwashing in environmental assessments, particularly the EIA for the Covas do Barroso mining project, emphasising the disconnection between proclaimed citizen involvement and actual policy influence.

Critical Reflections on Citizenwashing: Our discussion underscored Citizenwashing's detrimental effects — from distorting public perception and policy to stifling genuine citizen participation. This phenomenon not only betrays public trust but also breaches international legal obligations, such as those outlined in the Aarhus Convention, which mandates early, genuine public participation in environmental decision-making.

The Path Forward: Concluding on a note of resilience and hope, the session rallied for a reinvigorated commitment to authentic public engagement. Emphasising that meaningful participation enhances the quality and legitimacy of decisions, the conversation sparked a collective call to action against Citizenwashing, advocating for transparency, inclusivity, and integrity in environmental governance and beyond.

This event not only illuminated the shadowy practices of Citizenwashing but also galvanised a community of stakeholders committed to advocating for a more honest and participatory approach to environmental and democratic challenges.