We know the oil companies are notorious greenwashers, but you might not have thought about the airlines. Apparently, they're just as guilty as big oil.
This month a group of environmental organizations, including Earth Justice, Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club, Environment America, Natural Resources Defense Council and the Environmental Defense Fund, called out American Airlines, United and Continental Airlines for their efforts to gut anti-pollution programs while simultaneously bragging about their environmental performance.
The issue is these companies each touted their environmental responsibility around Earth Day last month: American in an article in American Airlines in-flight magazine, and the newly merged United and Continental in the description of their new “Eco-Skies” environmental campaign.
But meanwhile were suing in the European Court of Justice to block a new law that holds airlines accountable for their global warming pollution. Classic Greenwash.
The environmental groups sent letters to the airlines criticizing them for:
“spending [their] customers’ money on lawyers and lobbyists in an effort to thwart a crucial anti-pollution program”.
And urging them to:
"drop the lawsuit, and join the future of low-carbon aviation by making your actions consistent with your words."
EDF also sumitted ads to the airline magazines urging them to start flying cleaner (above).
Read more on the Environmental Defense Fund's blog.
A few weeks ago, we published an article exposing a serious piece of greenwash that ran in the Washington Post in early June. Southern Company, a notoriously high carbon dioxide emitter and avid opponent of clean energy solutions, ran this half-page advertisement, promoting the idea of “clean coal.”
We analyzed the advertisement, its falsities, as well as its long history of promoting unsustainable, environmental practices.
After becoming familiar with this ad’s little cartoon sketch and the message that it is “common sense” not to eliminate coal, when we discovered ads with similar features, we knew that they were additions to this company’s greenwashing archive.
Wrapped around the most recent July/August edition of Smithsonian Magazine was a two-page pamphlet with four Southern Company advertisements. At the top of the first page, the Smithsonian masthead is printed, so that the wrapper actually resembles a part of the magazine. Three of the ads are different versions of the original that we first saw in the Post, which was also re-printed in the wrapper as well.
They all have similar cartoon illustrations, and their messages are also based around the idea of “common sense.
The wrapper reveals that the one ad we caught in the Post is actually linked to a series of greenwashing advertisements and an entire campaign constructed by the company. See here for more information.
While all of these advertisements in the Smithsonian wrapper make a variety of different claims, one of the four is highlighted below.
Similar to the first ad in the Post, here Southern Company again states that it is working on the first zero-emissions coal-fired generating plant and writes that “common sense says to reduce our dependence on foreign energy” we must “use what’s under our own feet.” To complement and emphasize this statement, the picture shows a figure plugging a cord into an outlet situated on a map of the United States. Under the illustration is the statement, “The United States has a 200-year supply of coal.”
With this ad, the company sends the message that we should use America’s coal supply, (under our feet,) to power the country, and makes claims that using coal could become a zero-emissions process.
But their message is clearly false and irresponsible. Clean coal is only a myth: an idea created by industry. The fact is that coal is actually the largest source of mercury pollution in the United States and has left both air and water across the country irreversibly damaged and polluted.
Additionally, the statement that the U.S. has a 200-year supply of coal, further demonstrates that it is not a long-term or sustainable solution for the future. It will run out, and it will destroy the environment everyday until it does.
Another advertisement in the wrapper promotes the idea of using multiple energy sources. It’s text reads: “Common sense says don’t use just one,” and the illustration now shows the figure pushing a wheelbarrow full of symbols used to represent wind, nuclear, coal and switchgrass. Southern Company says that it has conducted $400 million in research on these different sources.
However, when considering the fact that the company serves approximately 4.3 million customers on nearly only coal, it’s hard to believe that it would truly be focusing on renewable or clean sources.
Additionally, Southern Company shows its support for nuclear power in this advertisement, a practice that will never be safe or clean; a practice that puts both the environment and human health at serious risk.
It’s clear that Southern Company has been working hard to get the public to believe that they care about the future of energy in this country. In fact, advertising in the Smithsonian magazine in particular, was probably strategic.
The company wants its message to reach the elite; people with power; people who can support the company and it’s endeavors; people like the readership of Smithsonian Magazine. According to the magazine’s 2010 Reader Profile, most of its readers are professionals and managers, wealthy, own a home, are married and college educated. The median household income of a 2010 Smithsonian reader is $71,917. Thirty five percent of the audience holds a professional or managerial position and 80% own a home.
Additionally, the advertising wrapper went out to only the DC market of the magazine, a place where the most influential subscribers would most likely live. According to an advertising representative from Smithsonian, the wrapper cost the company approximately $150,000.
Southern Company’s advertising strategy was not at all random. They were clearly targeting certain individuals that they believed would have power.
But implementing a clever and catchy campaign that includes cute illustrations doesn’t make their intentions or claims valid and/or truthful. After learning about who this company really is, “common sense says” they shouldn’t be trusted.
While we are aware of many individual companies that undermine the meaning and true purpose of the term ‘environmentally friendly,’ Greenpeace recently received a tip that many businesses within one industry may all have the ability to participate in an extensive greenwashing scheme.
An anonymous source inside in the restaurant industry recently led us to a new program sponsored by the National Restaurant Association called ‘Greener Restaurants,’ where any restaurant across the county, who claims to practice environmentally friendly initiatives can become a member.
The subscription fee is $250, and the restaurants receive a door decal and certificate that can be displayed in the restaurant, proudly announcing their eco-efforts. Participants also get their name in the “Green Dining Finder,” an online service for consumers looking to dine at sustainable restaurants.
But as our insider has shown us, it takes no more than a couple clicks through a “self-evaluation” checklist, covering topics such as energy efficiency, water conservation, and waste reduction, and a restaurant can easily receive a ‘green’ certification from the National Restaurant Association.
“They have made a mistake in putting out a deceptive, dishonest program that is going to harm businesses,” the anonymous source said. “Their reputations will be harmed because consumers will find out that to put that certificate on your window means nothing.”
Our source created a membership to the program and found that it took less than five minutes before he was downloading certificates showing the restaurant participated in sustainable practices. One green certification was received in less than 30 seconds when they checked a box claiming the restaurant had a “green marketing plan.”
“I say I have a green marketing plan with one click and immediately get a certificate,” said our source. “That makes a business green? I don’t think so.”
See the following youtube videos our source made to show how easy it is to earn the green certification.
In this first video, our source shows it took approximately 30 seconds to earn a certification after clicking that the restaurant had a green marketing plan.
This video shows that by clicking 5 more things, claiming that the restaurant had done an assessment on energy and water, another certificate was earned in 90 seconds.
Without any kind of screening or inspection to make sure that the restaurant was really following sustainable practices or any environmental changes being implemented at all, a restaurant with a printer and $250, could lead customers to believe they are an environmentally friendly establishment.
And the creators of “Greener Restaurants” are well aware of the value of the green label. Forty-four percent of adults say they are more likely to make a restaurant choice based on its environmental practices, boldly states the program’s website. It’s a fact that would easily sway any restaurant owner into forking out the subscription fee for more customers in return.
However, the increase in consumer desire for more sustainable products and practices is only truly beneficial, if what is actually being offered is true to what is being marketed. While it’s possible that some restaurant owners would use this site responsibly, there simply isn’t any way to verify this. No one is making sure that the people behind the clicks of the computer mouse do really use energy efficient appliances or practice responsible waste reduction techniques in their restaurant.
The fact further exacerbating the greenwashing action of this website can be found in the policies and make-up of the National Restaurant Association itself. It’s a powerful group comprised of nearly 945,000 restaurant and food service outlets across the country. The website calls the group “the cornerstone of the economy, career opportunities and community involvement,” in the restaurant industry. And while the association certainly holds a lot of weight, its reputation as an organization itself is not one that deserves a ‘green’ certification.
The only public policy issue brief under the “Sustainability and Social Responsibility” section of the National Restaurant Association’s website, is one for climate change. The brief states that the group is against cap and trade legislation because it goes “too far, too fast, and will hurt many small businesses.” The association said it would impact the industry by significantly increasing utility bills. Additionally, the organization states that climate change policies would force agricultural suppliers to change their production, thus also having an impact on suppliers of the National Restaurant Association.
“The National Restaurant Association will be working closely with Senate staff to make sure the industry’s concerns are known and to prevent the passage of any bill that could have such a serious impact on our industry,” states the brief.
While Greenpeace also opposes current cap and trade legislation, it does so for completely opposite reasons, stating that the legislation is too weak and doesn't set strong enough emission reduction targets or go far enough in supporting renewable energy. Instead the legislation subsidizes a new generation of dirty fossil fuel investments, which Greenpeace cannot support.
The fact that the National Restaurant Association opposes this legislation for going too far, makes their “Greener Restaurant” initiative seem even less valid and less in accordance with true purposes of being environmentally friendly.
See here for more information on the background and political history of the association and why their certification program cannot be trusted.
According to a 2009 Cone Consumer Environmental Survey, 63 percent of Americans trust companies to tell them the truth when it comes to environmental messaging and marketing. The difference between this scheme and others currently occurring is that the possibility for many restaurants to participate in this program at the same time. This means that there is great probability that many consumers could be affected. When taking into consideration the number of people that dine at restaurants throughout the country and the number of restaurants that could participate in the program, the potential for greenwashing on a widespread level is great.
“This undermines the whole concept of businesses out there who are legitimately trying to do something green,” said the source. “That is the biggest casualty of this.”
While an insider recently brought it to our attention that the National Restaurant Association’s new Greener Restaurants website was a scheme that allowed any restaurant to receive the ‘environmentally friendly’ label, Greenpeace has done more digging on the group and the details that truly define it.
In addition to opposing climate change legislation for fear that it will harm their members and the restaurant industry, other details disclose whom they support and where their support comes from. These questions are often quite telling of the purposes and motives of any group.
For example, according to opensecrets.org, the top federal candidates receiving contributions from the National Restaurant Association’s Political Action Committee during the 2010 political cycle are two Republicans whose history of votes are ones that you could not certify as ‘green.’
John Thune, Republican Senator from South Dakota up for reelection, received $10,000 from the National Restaurant Association during 2010. In 2008, Thune voted no on tax incentives concerning energy production and conservation. In 2005, he also voted no against reducing oil usage by 40 % by 2025 and banning drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Prior to that, he was against increasing CAFE or Corporate Average Fuel Economy Standards as a way to increase incentives to use alternative fuels and implementing the Kyoto Protocol.
Thune’s opposition to climate change legislation was well documented last year, when he proclaimed “I will work with every fiber of my being to defeat the [climate change] bill.”
Eric Cantor, Republican from Virginia received $6,000 from the National Restaurant Association, the largest contribution to a House candidate during the 2010 cycle. In the last 10 years, his voting history includes “no” to enforcing carbon dioxide limits; investing in homegrown bio fuels, tax incentives for renewable energy and energy conservation, and keeping a moratorium on offshore drilling.
And then there’s George Allen. He’s one of the keynote speakers at next week’s Heartland Institute’s Climate Change Conference (a.k.a. Denial Palooza) and during the 2006 political cycle, the Republican Senate candidate from Virginia received $10,000 from the National Restaurant Association, one of the largest contributions given that year.
He has voted to end CAFE standards and drilling on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and also against actions such as reducing oil usage by 2025 and including oil and smokestacks under mercury regulations.
But not only has Allen made historically conservative votes, threatening important legislation to the future of the environment, but he is also the head of an initiative known as the American Energy Freedom Center that supports coal, nuclear power and offshore drilling.
In the blog on the American Energy Freedom Center’s website, Allen is quoted as saying, “Electricity generated by American coal plants and hydro dams provide the most affordable electricity for families and businesses.”
In September 2009, Allen also showed his true colors at a town hall meeting in Virginia.
According to the “Collegian,” University of Richmond’s independent student newspaper, Allen said, “We don’t care what our cars run on,” Allen said. “They could run on Alaska oil, Louisiana oil, vegetable oil or Coal-syn fuels, water or natural gas as long as it’s available, affordable and reliable.
At the same event, he also said, “You’ll hear from these pompous elites, that Americans are addicted to oil. Americans are not addicted to oil. Americans are addicted to freedom – the freedom and independence to move where and when we want – and I believe that Americans can keep that independence.”
He has dedicated what he considers “freedom” and “independence” to creating the American Energy Freedom Center. It’s his brainchild and a project of the Institute for Energy Research, an initiative funded by ExxonMobil. In 2007, the oil company provided nearly 10 percent of the Institute for Energy Research’s budget.
See exxonsecrets.org for more information on Allen.
These are the kinds of people that the National Restaurant Association is funding to put harmful energy policies and campaigns into action. Can we really trust such a group to be the bearer of ‘green’ certifications to restaurants across the country? Are these really the people that we want holding the label for restaurants to be considered “environmentally friendly?”
The political contributions of this association tells a significant amount about true face behind this Greener Restaurants website.
As you might have noticed, Newsweek ran a special issue this week with the cover story, "The Greenest Big Companies in America." The feature ranks the S&P 500 according to each company's environmental impact, policies and reputation. Dirt Diggers Digest points out that the list "has more validity than the usual exercises of this sort, which tend to take much of corporate greenwash at face value." But also notes "the magazine could have easily turned the list upside down and headlined its feature 'The Biggest Environmental Culprits of Corporate America'."The web version of the Newsweek issue has a nice sidebar dedicated specifically to greenwash, which includes these snipits:
"Many corporations ... don't do much of anything to change the way they do business, but make a big show of their dedication to Mother Earth. It's usually easy to spot these companies: They make their customers do the work, and then take the credit. In the name of saving the planet, my cable TV operator keeps asking for permission to stop sending paper statements in the mail each month. Instead, I'm supposed to check my statement online. The real reason, of course, is that doing so would save them paper, printing and postage. This is a perfectly legitimate reason for them to want me to switch. But when they pretend that it's all about the environment, it just makes me hate my cable company even more than I already do. Despite this, I would still consider switching to online statements if they would agree to use the money they save to hire cable TV repairmen who know how to repair cable TV."
"Sometimes a good ad campaign does a better job of enhancing a company's green reputation than going through the expense and hassle of adopting actual environmentally sound practices. Billboards in Washington implore me to join the cause. "I will unplug stuff more," reads one. Another says, "I will at least consider buying a hybrid." These ads are the work of Chevron, the giant oil company, whose "Will You Join Us?" ads try to convince people that saving the planet is at the top of their list. You might think that if Chevron was really worried about problems like global warming, they would spend some of those p.r. dollars lobbying Congress to adopt stricter gas mileage requirements for automobiles. They do not do this. Instead, I'm apparently supposed to praise them as environmental heroes because they tell me to unplug my toaster and think about getting a Prius. Yet ad campaigns like these work. Chevron lands at No. 371 out of 500 companies on Newsweek's green rankings."
Sorry, folks, the Supreme Court must have been wrong about CO2 being an air pollutant. I stumbled upon the Truth in the form of this half-page ad in Monday’s Washington Post:
Not only is there no scientific evidence that CO2 is a pollutant, higher CO2 concentrations actually help ecosystems support more plant and animal life… Higher levels of CO2 result in more plant growth as well as less water being required for plants to grow faster and larger. In fact, we all exhale CO2 and enjoy it in our carbonated beverages.
This blows my mind. I don’t even know how to categorize this latest piece of big-oil-funded misdirection. Junk science? Botany for third graders? Blatant untruthiness?
CO2isgreen, Inc., the non-profit “with questionable parentage” that funded the ad, has already been called out twice in the blogosphere - once by Grist.org and again by Scienceblogs.com. Miles Grant correctly points out H. Leighton Steward’s position as an honorary director at the American Petroleum Institute, recently in the news for staging astroturf campaigns, as well as his connection to numerous big oil companies:
He’s also a director at EOG Resources, an oil and gas company, a position in which he earned a whopping $617,151 last year. Steward is formerly head of Burlington Resources, now a part of ConocoPhillips) and former Chairman of the U.S. Oil and Gas Association and the Natural Gas Supply Association. Not a word about any of that in his bio on the site.
The one connection that Grant missed is that Steward is currently Chairman of the Board of The Institute for the Study of Earth and Man at SMU, which has received $76,500 since 1998 from everybody’s favorite greenhouse gangster, ExxonMobil.
James Hrynyshyn paints a softer picture of Steward after talking to him on the phone, describing him as “earnest,” and insisting:
…he's not a dupe of Big Oil trying to pull the wool over our eyes. At least, not consciously… He simply doesn’t doesn't accept the mountains of evidence that carbon dioxide is a significant greenhouse gas, and that small changes in its atmospheric concentration can have a big impact on climate.Forgive my cynicism, but if it looks like big oil, works for big oil and gets paid by big oil, then it must be an earnest Joe with a penchant for taking out half-page ads in major news publications.
Almost half of all the carbon dioxide emitted since industrialization has been absorbed by the ocean. [Acidification] deprives animals like hard corals and certain mollusks and plankton of the raw material for their calcium carbonate shells and skeletons. This may ultimately cause the world’s oceans to become corrosive to such animals, and coral reefs to dissolve.The science of our carbon burden is clear. What is unclear is whether world leaders gathered in New York for a UN summit on climate change can be convinced to act in the interest of the many and the future rather than the few and the now.
This week, Planet Green's Focus Earth program airs an episode on greenwash. In the episode Bob Woodruff interviews environmental and corporate watchdog expert Kenny Bruno, author of Greenwash and Corporate Environmentalism, and myself from Greenpeace, to answer the question: are corporate green efforts for show only, or can they actually make amends for decades of un-sustainable, even downright harmful, business choices? Woodfuff also gets up close with leaders from Royal Dutch Shell, Ford Motor Company and Duke Energy to examine their environmental statements and actions.
Used to describe the act of misleading consumers regarding the environmental practices of a company or the environmental benefits of a product or service.