Drowning in greenwash

Posted by jamie — 9 January 2008 at 3:03pm - Comments

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.

Hi,

Are EDF energy and their ad agency Euro RSCG as keen on recycling ideas as they are footage? The Save Today Save Tomorrow advert is startlingly similar to The Recycled History of Recycling. A short film screened at the Britdoc festival and on Channel 4's 3MW strand 25th July 2007. It was made to promote recycling and was made using 100% recycled footage - something that it clearly points out at the end of the film. Check out the link below and make up your own mind!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UL7C0uh_-Hs

There are no new ideas, especially in advertising. And because I have special powers, here's that video in full: web editor gpuk

Hey Jamie,

I think the problem is that it's all 'greenwashing' even those with the best of intentions. There is no such notion as eco friendly cars or CFL lightbulbs saving the world, none of these things are sustainable..

If we agree that industrial civilisation is destroying the planet (and if we don't, then i guess we may be looking at different planets?) then we have to understand that the solution is not going to be found in the same system that is creating the problem.

There are degrees of greenwashing and we've agreed elsewhere that any form of consumerism has an impact, but the system isn't going anywhere for a while. I want to change it and it would be better if it happened now rather than later; the problem is we need to persuade people that it's the right thing to do, and unless we're willing to turn ourselves over to some kind of benevolent dictatorship (which surely is an oxymoron) that takes time.

What's the alternative? I could remove myself from the rat race, live completely off what I can grow and generate somewhere in the Highlands, but that's probably one of the more selfish things I could do. I'd be lessening my own impact but I wouldn't be in a position to persuade anyone else to join me. Meanwhile the environmental destruction and mass extinctions would go on regardless.

I think it's better to be here (not at Greenpeace as such, but in modern society), acknowledge that I everything I do has impacts, do what I can to lessen it while I work with others to convince everyone else to do likewise.

web editor
gpuk

Fiona - talking of 'the system', I've just read this piece on the BBC which you might find interesting, and I'd also recommend George Monbiot's The Age of Consent (although it's a while since I read it so don't quiz me on the fine points!).

web editor
gpuk

Hi Jamie,

Thanks for the reply. I personally think the problem lies with Monbiot still viewing the planet as a resource for 'us' (us=the sacred human being of course) to use. I think that is the underlying issue with our differing views. You still agree that the natural world can and should be exploited just in a less harmful way, i don't think any level of exploitation is sustainable (or right).

If you take more than you give back you ARE going to run out. And i don't think anyone can view the systematic collapse of virtually every eco system and deny that we are taking more than we give back. Yes the 'system' may be here for a while longer - (although every day we wait there are a few more hundred species extinct) - but just because it is here, i don't have to agree with it. :-)

I never suggested that you turn your back on civilisation and go live in the forest, that wouldn't help anyone but yourself obviously. I still use a computer...why? Because you CAN use the masters tools to bring down the masters house..I'm not interested in gaining personal purity, i'm interested in stopping our culture from killing the planet.

I would really recommend that anyone who is interested in facing the truth about the impact of industrial civilisation pick up a copy of Endgame by Derrick Jensen. :-)

I'd rather have a world where there is a balance and we as a civilisation are not exploiting the planet as we are now, managing resources properly etc etc but you're probably right that we have differing definitions to one degree or another. But if you could wave a magic wand, what kind of society or world would you like to live in? I'm interested to find out as, from what you've said, I thought you were hankering for a return to an agrarian life before we started inventing things more complicated than knives and wheels (that's why I mentioned about dropping out and living in a shack) but maybe my assumptions are wrong... ;)

Thanks for the reading tip - I'll add to my ever-growing list of tomes to plough through. Incidentally, this discussion reminds me of something a colleague from our China office said: that Westerners are always trying to change things, whereas the Chinese approach is to achieve a balance. Not sure if it's relevant or not, but it's nice in a profound kind of way.

web editor
gpuk

Hi Jamie..

Well i guess i think hunter - gatherer is and always has been the only sustainable way humans have ever lived on this planet. As soon as we started to 'manipulate' the land (and thus over shoot our population) we became unsustainable..

So yes in an ideal world, i would like to see us return to a world were we accept what the Earth gives us, rather than try and force more from it. I also would like to see a world were we don't think of things as 'resources' but as living beings in which to enter into relationships with. (and of course some people (those we haven't killed) do still live this way today)

I have absolutely no doubt whatsover, if humans do survive in the long run, they will return to that way of life. It seems nonsense to me to kill the planet you live on, poison all your water sources..have dioxin in every mothers breast milk..etc etc so you can feel civilised enough to watch TV.. ;-)

Aimed at smart, careful consumers, greenwashing's guff is headier stuff. It’s not that easy being green -- but now even the frog's shilling for Ford. In marketing, at least, being eco-friendly is often just a matter of saying you are.

I know an ecolgist who worked for an edf site, surveying herpetiles on a site they planned to build on, and from what I heard from him, it was a lot of havoc and edf were very hard to work with, they were careless and unhelpful. Of course, that was just the people he had to deal with, so maybe it's the individual; but they would represent the whole company. It's so sickening, their logo is a wind turbine (only with 5 spokes) if I'm not mistaken...

Adverts should be restricted and checked out fully before they are allowed to air!! I remember, (though it's embarrasing) wondering if they were actually genuine. People should know the truth!!!

We have been fighting Electricite de France more or less single-handedly for 6 or 7 weeks. Last week Ecotricity threatening legal action. We have pumped complaints into the ASA.

We have been ripped off by EDF's agency twice.

The Recycled campaign was created by our Kiki Kendrick for Ecover back in 1991 or 2 and i created the Green Union Jack identity for Dale Vince nearly three years ago.

The rip-off pales into insignificance compared to the outrageous greenwashing of the Great British public. EDF are polluting the minds of kids as well as adults and it is sickening. And it is dangerous.. This is a kind of dictator propaganda. It has to stop.

Why does every one complain but no one do anything. We bring it on ourselves. Do something Greenpeace. The time is now.

http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=106171060780&ref=ts

Hi, Are EDF energy and their ad agency Euro RSCG as keen on recycling ideas as they are footage? The Save Today Save Tomorrow advert is startlingly similar to The Recycled History of Recycling. A short film screened at the Britdoc festival and on Channel 4's 3MW strand 25th July 2007. It was made to promote recycling and was made using 100% recycled footage - something that it clearly points out at the end of the film. Check out the link below and make up your own mind! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UL7C0uh_-Hs

There are no new ideas, especially in advertising. And because I have special powers, here's that video in full: web editor gpuk

Hey Jamie, I think the problem is that it's all 'greenwashing' even those with the best of intentions. There is no such notion as eco friendly cars or CFL lightbulbs saving the world, none of these things are sustainable.. If we agree that industrial civilisation is destroying the planet (and if we don't, then i guess we may be looking at different planets?) then we have to understand that the solution is not going to be found in the same system that is creating the problem.

There are degrees of greenwashing and we've agreed elsewhere that any form of consumerism has an impact, but the system isn't going anywhere for a while. I want to change it and it would be better if it happened now rather than later; the problem is we need to persuade people that it's the right thing to do, and unless we're willing to turn ourselves over to some kind of benevolent dictatorship (which surely is an oxymoron) that takes time. What's the alternative? I could remove myself from the rat race, live completely off what I can grow and generate somewhere in the Highlands, but that's probably one of the more selfish things I could do. I'd be lessening my own impact but I wouldn't be in a position to persuade anyone else to join me. Meanwhile the environmental destruction and mass extinctions would go on regardless. I think it's better to be here (not at Greenpeace as such, but in modern society), acknowledge that I everything I do has impacts, do what I can to lessen it while I work with others to convince everyone else to do likewise. web editor gpuk

Fiona - talking of 'the system', I've just read this piece on the BBC which you might find interesting, and I'd also recommend George Monbiot's The Age of Consent (although it's a while since I read it so don't quiz me on the fine points!). web editor gpuk

Hi Jamie, Thanks for the reply. I personally think the problem lies with Monbiot still viewing the planet as a resource for 'us' (us=the sacred human being of course) to use. I think that is the underlying issue with our differing views. You still agree that the natural world can and should be exploited just in a less harmful way, i don't think any level of exploitation is sustainable (or right). If you take more than you give back you ARE going to run out. And i don't think anyone can view the systematic collapse of virtually every eco system and deny that we are taking more than we give back. Yes the 'system' may be here for a while longer - (although every day we wait there are a few more hundred species extinct) - but just because it is here, i don't have to agree with it. :-) I never suggested that you turn your back on civilisation and go live in the forest, that wouldn't help anyone but yourself obviously. I still use a computer...why? Because you CAN use the masters tools to bring down the masters house..I'm not interested in gaining personal purity, i'm interested in stopping our culture from killing the planet. I would really recommend that anyone who is interested in facing the truth about the impact of industrial civilisation pick up a copy of Endgame by Derrick Jensen. :-)

I'd rather have a world where there is a balance and we as a civilisation are not exploiting the planet as we are now, managing resources properly etc etc but you're probably right that we have differing definitions to one degree or another. But if you could wave a magic wand, what kind of society or world would you like to live in? I'm interested to find out as, from what you've said, I thought you were hankering for a return to an agrarian life before we started inventing things more complicated than knives and wheels (that's why I mentioned about dropping out and living in a shack) but maybe my assumptions are wrong... ;) Thanks for the reading tip - I'll add to my ever-growing list of tomes to plough through. Incidentally, this discussion reminds me of something a colleague from our China office said: that Westerners are always trying to change things, whereas the Chinese approach is to achieve a balance. Not sure if it's relevant or not, but it's nice in a profound kind of way. web editor gpuk

Hi Jamie.. Well i guess i think hunter - gatherer is and always has been the only sustainable way humans have ever lived on this planet. As soon as we started to 'manipulate' the land (and thus over shoot our population) we became unsustainable.. So yes in an ideal world, i would like to see us return to a world were we accept what the Earth gives us, rather than try and force more from it. I also would like to see a world were we don't think of things as 'resources' but as living beings in which to enter into relationships with. (and of course some people (those we haven't killed) do still live this way today) I have absolutely no doubt whatsover, if humans do survive in the long run, they will return to that way of life. It seems nonsense to me to kill the planet you live on, poison all your water sources..have dioxin in every mothers breast milk..etc etc so you can feel civilised enough to watch TV.. ;-)

Aimed at smart, careful consumers, greenwashing's guff is headier stuff. It’s not that easy being green -- but now even the frog's shilling for Ford. In marketing, at least, being eco-friendly is often just a matter of saying you are.

I know an ecolgist who worked for an edf site, surveying herpetiles on a site they planned to build on, and from what I heard from him, it was a lot of havoc and edf were very hard to work with, they were careless and unhelpful. Of course, that was just the people he had to deal with, so maybe it's the individual; but they would represent the whole company. It's so sickening, their logo is a wind turbine (only with 5 spokes) if I'm not mistaken... Adverts should be restricted and checked out fully before they are allowed to air!! I remember, (though it's embarrasing) wondering if they were actually genuine. People should know the truth!!!

We have been fighting Electricite de France more or less single-handedly for 6 or 7 weeks. Last week Ecotricity threatening legal action. We have pumped complaints into the ASA. We have been ripped off by EDF's agency twice. The Recycled campaign was created by our Kiki Kendrick for Ecover back in 1991 or 2 and i created the Green Union Jack identity for Dale Vince nearly three years ago. The rip-off pales into insignificance compared to the outrageous greenwashing of the Great British public. EDF are polluting the minds of kids as well as adults and it is sickening. And it is dangerous.. This is a kind of dictator propaganda. It has to stop. Why does every one complain but no one do anything. We bring it on ourselves. Do something Greenpeace. The time is now. http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=106171060780&ref=ts

About Jamie

I'm one of the editors of the website, and I do a lot of work on the Get Active section, as well as doing web stuff for the forests campaign. I've worked for Greenpeace since 2006 and, coming from a background as a freelance writer and web producer, it's been something of an education to be part of a direct action organisation. I'm from Cumbria originally but now I live in north London - I came to study here and somehow have never left.

My personal mumblings can be found @shrinkydinky.

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