Greenwashing – The term Greenwashing is a play on the concept of whitewashing.
It’s when companies use marketing spin to make their products seem environmentally friendly… when most of the time they’re not and in fact it can be argued that selling anything in the capitalist market place can not be environmentally friendly.
Greenwashing was coined by New York environmentalist Jay Westerveld in a 1986 essay regarding the hotel industry’s practice of placing green placards in each room which promoted reuse of guest-towels allegedly to “save the environment”.
Westerveld found that in most cases these claims were hollow and used to disguise cost cutting techniques … the overall aim being to increase profit.
These days green is the new black and companies spend big bucks on advertising being green to appeal to consumers rather than on doing anything that actually could be environmentally beneficial such as taking responsibility for the entire life cycle of their product.
Examples include changing the name or label of a product to give the feeling of nature and altering the colors used by your brand to include green or both.
For example BP,entered the greenwashing playing field, spending 200 million dollars on re-branding their company. Part of their re-branding was use of the slogan “beyond petroleum” and a new green and yellow sunburst design for their logo.
In Norway the consumer ombudsman banned car manufactures from claiming their vehicles are ‘green’, ”clean’ or ‘environmentally’ friendly saying that – “Cars cannot do anything good for the environment except less damage than others’.
Manufacturers risk fines if they fail to drop the words.
The Australian Trade Practices Act has been modified to include punishment of companies that make misleading environmental claims.
In 2008 GM Holden were fined by the ACCC for their Grrrrrreen campaign promoting their range of Saab vehicles using these words and phrases – “Grrrrrreen”, “Every Saab is green. With carbon emissions neutral across the entire Saab range” and “Shift to Neutral”.
When the Olympics games were held in London 3 organisations the London Mining Network, Bhopal Medical Appeal and UK Tar Sands Network set up a campaign called Greenwash Gold 2012.
10 yrs before the London Olympics the Sydney Olympics were being hyped as the greenest ever….. despite the site where they were held being a former industrial and armaments depot.
Dr Sharon Beder who wrote a research paper called Greenwashing an Olympic Sized Toxic Dump she says of the site:
“In recent years asbestos-contaminated waste and chemicals including dioxins and pesticides have been found there, along with arsenic, cadmium, chromium, copper, lead, mercury and zinc. It is the worst toxic waste dump in Australia, and the bay into which the waste leaches is so contaminated that there is a fishing ban. The sediments in the bay have concentrations of dioxin that make it one of the world’s worst dioxin hot spots. The dioxin is largely the result of waste from a Union Carbide factory which manufactured the notorious herbicide Agent Orange there during the Vietnam war. “
She goes on to add that the Sydney Games site’s green transformation was possible due to the help of environmental groups such as Greenpeace.
For Greenpeace, participation in developing a showcase Olympic village offered another benefit: the opportunity to transform its own image. Instead of simply sounding the alarm on environmental problems as it had done for the previous 20 years, the “new Greenpeace” would be seen as promoting solutions.
‘Greenpeace International wrote to Olympic sponsors, including BHP, Coca Cola, General Motors-Holden, McDonalds, and others, offering to help them earn the name of ‘Green’ in the same way as the Sydney Olympics has: ‘As sponsors, you have the opportunity to play a key role in this success. One of the many benefits of being part of the Green Games is the chance to demonstrate your company’s commitment to the environment and to future generations. The Sydney Olympics offer your staff the opportunity to take part in a long-term global initiative to protect the world’s environment… Greenpeace would like to work with you to explore the areas in which you can make an environmental contribution during the Sydney 2000 Games.’
In 2007 an environmental marketing firm TerraChoice released a study called “The Six Sins of Greenwashing“
Another example of greenwashing is Earth Hour.
Earth Hour encourages consumers to switch off electric appliances for 1 hour. This may make people feel good about a minor inconvenience without creating any sustained reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.
Website the wrong kind of green published an article which calls Earth Hour ‘the ultimate parody of this great coming together of all that is evil in the world of greenwashing.’
And continues – ‘I don’t use the term “evil” lightly. A person cannot be evil; an action can. Earth Hour is evil because it not only allows corporations, politicians, urban sprawls and industrial monoliths to look good in the eyes of a naive public, it actively attacks genuine attempts to try and undermine the very things that feed off Earth Day. An ordinary person in the thrall of industrial civilization cannot fail to be impressed by the sight of a thousand buildings simultaneously switching off their lights in the name of planet Earth; how can something as mundane as building non-dependent communities compete with such glamour.’
And a look at the corporate sponsors of Earth Hour 2011 gives insight also into the cynical nature of this event.
First I’ll mention 2012 Greenwash Gold winners Rio Tinto…
Unilever who I’ve mentioned in a previous episode about they test on animals.
Toyota , Coco Cola who have been implicated in among other things rape, torture and murder of workers in South America, One Steel, Emirates Airlines and Mitsubishi Electric
And the organisation behind. Earth Hour WWF has a dismal record of jumping into bed with corporate polluters in return for sponsorship dollars
I highly recommend the site wrongkindofgreen.org for more information on this and other examples of the manipulation, compromise and otherwise selling out of non government organisations.
Similarly, introduction of a Carbon Emission Trading Scheme may feel good but is it actually beneficial in the long term? A group involved with Friend’s of the Earth in the Uk set up a scheme called Cheat Neutral to demonstrate how carbon emission trading works or rather doesn’t work.
- Cheatneutral doesn’t really do much to reduce the amount of cheating in the world. Carbon offsetting does very little to reduce global carbon emissions.