Watching TV used to be a relaxing pleasure but now it makes my blood boil. It's not the programmes so much (although a lot of it is rubbish) but the advert breaks overflowing with greenwash, filled with images of doe-eyed creatures and tranquil woodlands by companies trying to convince me that they're really very green and, actually, always have been.
Okay, some of the claims are genuine but there's so much rubbish out there, it's no wonder a recent survey found that a third of consumers (or, in other words, the general public) think companies exaggerate their environmental credentials. Yet over half of companies think they're taking significant steps to green their business practices. Some of these are the same big, dirty companies want us to believe that, with a few cosmetic tweaks, we can all carry on, business as usual.
But companies are starting to be slapped for using misleading or downright inaccurate claims about how green they are in their publicity, and the Advertising Standards Authority has had a busy week. Boeing, which has already been criticised for claims about CO2 emissions, has had to pull a magazine advert for saying its new 787 Dreamliner aircraft can fly "60 per cent quieter than before". Meanwhile, thanks to a complaint brought by Friends of the Earth, the Malaysian Palm Oil Council can no longer show their advert extolling the sustainable virtues of their core product. Take a look, it's really quite nauseating:
On the continent, Greenpeace itself has lodged two successful complaints. Dutch energy giant Nuon has been told to stop using the phrase "clean coal", while the Swiss Oil Association had its knuckles rapped for saying, "Heating with oil: for more climate protection".
Despite all this, there's still a lot of crap. HSBC's website is dripping in images of rainforests as it holds its 'green sale' and yet we know it provides financial services to Olam International, a company that's buying timber illegally logged in the Congo rainforest. And of course, our local energy conglomerates are bending over backwards to paint themselves green. Here's E.ON's latest effort:
"Changing energy for good"? But where's the mention of their application to build the first coal-fired power station in the UK for over 30 years at Kingsnorth. And what about EDF, cynically using JFK and (gasp!) the Wombles in their 'recycled' advert? They skip over the fact that they're building nuclear power stations on the continent and want to build them here:
Urgh. I feel dirty. Watching those last two videos, it's not surprising that the utilities sector came out top when respondents to the greenwash poll mentioned above were asked who was perceived to be greener.
Imagine my joy when, in preparing this blog, I stumbled across the Greenwashing Index, where adverts can be submitted and rated according to their greenwash potential. I've already posted the palm oil advert which deserves a good drubbing.
One final piece of news which might help even the balance. Adbusters, the creative social campaigning collective, have long tried to air their own TV spots highlighting bad company practices and warning against over-consumption North America. However, companies like MTV have refused to show them with little or no explanation. Fed up with this, Adbusters are going to the Supreme Court in British Columbia to challenge Canadian broadcasters over this.
If they win, there's a chance some of the puffed-up greenwash will be challenged by an alternative point of view.