Do you know when you’re being greenwashed?
Does your blood pressure go up when you see those disinformation ads (you know, the ones by the American Petroleum Institute, American Coalition for Clean Coal Electicity, Conoco, Dow Chemical, Shell, BP, General Motors, Chevron, etc?), which are usually narrated either by some enthusiastic, idealistic company scientist telling you about how excited she/he is to be working on some project that will enable us to hand a better world to our children, or a montage of serious, but gently smiling faces, which stare resolutely but insipidly into the camera while uttering high-sounding but completely vacuous platitudes?
Does it make you retch because you know that behind those smiling faces these corporate liars are in reality emitting huge amounts of greenhouse gases and other pollutants, lobbying against solutions to global warming, and hoping you’ll be stupid enough to let them continue to make billions by doing business as usual until we all have cancer and the climate is destroyed?
Well, good, because that means you are still thinking, and if you’re still thinking you’re far less likely to be taken in by greenwashing. And people are starting to fight back.
Greenpeace has four criteria for determining if something is greenwashing or not:
Dirty Business – Touting an environmental program or product, while the corporation’s product or core business is inherently polluting or unsustainable. For example, if a company brags about its boutique green R&D projects but the majority of spending and investment reinforces old, unsustainable, polluting practices.
Ad Bluster – Using targeted advertising and public relations campaigns to exaggerate an environmental achievement in order to divert attention away from environmental problems or if it spends more money advertising an environmental achievement than actually doing it. For example, if a company were to do a million dollar ad campaign about a clean up that cost less.
Political Spin – Advertising or speaking about corporate “green” commitments while lobbying against pending or current environmental laws and regulations. For example, if advertising or public statements are used to emphasize corporate environmental responsibility in the midst of legislative pressure or legal action.
It’s the Law, Stupid! – Advertising or branding a product with environmental achievements that are already required or mandated by existing laws. For example, if an industry or company has been forced to change a product, clean up its pollution or protect an endangered species, then uses PR campaigns to make such action look proactive or voluntary.
As it turns out you don’t have to be a passive victim of greenwashing. There are a couple of web sites to which you can submit ads that you consider to be greenwashing where they will be scrutinized and their claims analyzed and debunked.
The first of the two sites is run by Greenpeace itself. On the site you can view videos of greenwashing television advertising and read greenwashing print ads, as well as read analysis and comments and submit comments of your own.
You can go directly to the videos here. They also have print ads on a different page.
The second site, run by faculty at the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communications, The Greenwashing Index is similar. It has lots of videos of greenwashing ads (and print ads also) user comments, and gives registered members the option of rating the videos on a scale of 1-5 according to how much greenwashing is going on.
Both of these sites are worth spending a few minutes checking out because they’ll make you more sensitive to greenwashing when you see it, read it, or hear it.
Some consumer and environmental organizations have responded to the greenwashing ads with ads of their own. The first one below is from the Sierra Club and it debunks many of the coal companies’ claims regarding the economics and environmental friendliness of coal.
This second ad, which I love, is from FreeLoveForum and is a parody of actual greenwashing ads. My concern is that if one doesn’t already recognize greenwashing ads as deceitful and manipulative, they might have a little trouble grasping the irony in this one.
What else can you do? Write and complain to the networks that run these ads: CNN and MSNBC are terrible, as are the major networks. It seems to me that there might also be possible legal action that could be taken against the companies who sponsor such ads. Surely, the FCC has some responsibility to protect the public from the lies that these ads contain. Didn’t there used to be some rule about truth in advertising?