Paul de Clerk, Coordinator of the Corporate Campaign at Friends of
the Earth International, describes greenwashing as "the practice of
companies disingenuously spinning their products and policies as
Companies launch cleverly-angled advertising campaigns convincing
consumers with claims that are at best vague, unsubstantiated, and
irrelevant -- for example, "CFC free," even though they are illegal. At
worst, the claims are completely untrue or plain bizarre (organic
AN UGLY TRUTH
Clerk highlighted what he believes to be the two most outrageous
greenwashing claims to have been splashed across advertising billboards
worldwide saying, "A few years ago, Shell had an ad showing an oil
refinery chimney with flowers coming out instead of smoke -- hardly
"The second example, against which Friends of the Earth filed a
successful complaint, involved the Malaysian Palm Oil Council. The ad,
which ran in The Economist magazine, falsely claimed palm oil resources
were sustainable when in reality the palm oil trade had caused
deforestation and conflict."
However, about a year after the complaint, the Malaysian Palm Oil
Council launched another advertising campaign, this time claiming that
palm oil was the "green solution."
De Clerk says a big problem faced by environmentalists is that even
when bodies like the ASA (Advertising Standards Authority) in the U.K.,
or Friends of the Earth file complaints, companies are not fined, and
are free to repeat similar campaigns.
"Filing a procedure for a greenwashing claim can take months, by
which time the advert has had the desired impact on consumers." he said.
"The companies suffer no direct impact as by the time the advert is
banned, the campaign is most likely to be over."
GRASS IS ALWAYS GREENER ON THE OTHER SIDE...
matter to big business, and even coal companies are claiming to be
Energy company E.ON, based in Germany, has plans to build
coal-powered plants, yet in its advertising campaigns, the company
focuses on its renewable power sourcing schemes, such as windmills.
Although these represent a small percentage of the product portfolio
(coal, gas and nuclear energy make up the rest) they are the ones the
public are usually exposed to.
The facts speak for themselves - energy website electricityinfo.org
states that between April 2008 and March 2009 E.ON's portfolio was:
coal 43.4 per cent, natural gas 45.2 per cent, nuclear 6.2 per cent and
renewables a tiny 0.3 per cent.
consumers and companies are all too aware of the commercial imperative
to be seen to be "green." And as environmental issues have become more
important and mainstream the PR greenwashing has become more
sophisticated and more prevalent.
The net losers are the companies whose green credentials are based
on fact - and the spin-weary consumer.
Eventually consumers will get frustrated, lose all faith in green
claims and start ignoring all green campaigns.