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The Independent: Inside Story: Advertising environmentalism – Is it just greenwash?

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Last week the Advertising Standards Authority ordered car-maker Renault to stop a campaign that made false environmental claims. Ben Stewart, Greenpeace’s director of communications, puts to the test other examples of products claiming to have ecological benefits

Monday, 31 March 2008


‘High performance – low emissions’

They say: A national press ad for the Golf GT TSI showed an image of the car on a split background. The left side pictured a dimly lit forest with wolves and the text “high performance”.The right side of the ad showed a brightly lit meadow with a deer and the text “low emissions”. Volkswagen likes to claim to care about the environment “as much as you do”.

Behind the greenwash: The ASA said readers of the ad were likely to understand the claim “low emissions” to mean the car had low emissions compared to all cars, when it didn’t. It ordered that the ad should not appear again in its current form.


‘It’s not easy being green’

They say: If you can get past the nauseating soundtrack and the clips from speeches by JFK and Bill Clinton, EDF lay its green credentials on the line in this ad with the claim that it will cut carbon intensity by 60 per cent by 2020.

Behind the greenwash: The fact is that reducing carbon intensity isn’t the same as cutting carbon emissions. Carbon intensity is the amount of carbon produced for each unit of energy generated. EDF can reduce carbon intensity, but if the total amount of energy it produces increases, then so too will the CO2 emissions.

And we shouldn’t forget that this is the same company that is pushing to build new nuclear power stations in the UK as a solution to climate change, even though new nuclear will make tiny cuts in emissions, block real solutions like renewables and leave us scratching our heads as we try to deal with the huge volumes of lethal radioactive waste it will produce.


‘Beyond Petroleum’

They say: Friendly cartoon figures are seen driving through the green countryside and pulling up at animated petrol pumps. BP reassured us that it was determined to tackle climate-change with promises of a £200m investment in energy-efficiency,commitments to solar and renewable power, and research into the effects of the oil industry on climate change.

Behind the greenwash: The facts speak for themselves – according to its own annual report, BP was responsible for 1.3 billion tonnes of CO2 emissions in 2007. And it is following Shell into northern Canada to extract oil from tar sands there.


‘Economical, ecological’

They say: In its latest ad, Renault hails the green credentials of the new Twingo Dynamique. It features the car with the words “economical ecological” written on leaves coming from the exhaust and assures us that the car is part of Renault’s Eco2 scheme.

Behind the greenwash: The ASA demanded Renault withdrew the ad because it exaggerated environmental benefits. The Twingo is in the third-highest category for vehicle excise duty which ranks cars by their emissions, and it isn’t included in the Department for Transport’s selection of top 10 low-CO2 cars. Renault was also told that because the ad failed to explain the criteria for cars to be included in its Eco2 scheme, it had “breached the code of conduct over substantiation, truthfulness and environmental claims”.


‘High performance, low emissions, zero guilt’

They say: In a glossy magazine ad last year, Lexus advertised its new hybrid SUV car as being “high performance, low emissions,zero guilt”. The ad said that the car had a category-leading low amount of CO2 emissions.

Behind the greenwash: In fact the Lexus RX 400 emits 192g of CO2 per kilometre – pretty inefficient compared with other cars and only slightly lower than other SUVs. European ministers are currently considering whether to force all car manufacturersto make only cars that emit 130 grams or less of CO2 per kilometre. The ASA pointed out that the Lexus was only low inemissions when compared with other gas-guzzling cars.


‘Act on CO2’

They say: The Government’s public information “Act on CO2” campaign makes a range of suggestions. Top tips include pumping up your car tyres and packing less into your car boot to make your vehicle more fuel efficient as well as urging us to recycle more household waste.

Behind the greenwash: Focusing on the responsibility of individuals is a way to divert attention from a failure on climate change. The expansion of Heathrow and support for new coalfired power stations threaten any chance Britain has of meeting its long-term climate targets. “Act on CO2” is greenwash of a pure and undiluted strain.


‘Carbon footyprint’

They say: E.ON’s campaign asks football fans to reduce the FA cup’s “carbon footprint” by pledging to watch the game together (rather than on their own TV sets) or by car-sharing when travelling to a game. So far, around 12,000 fans have saved 12million kg of CO2.

Behind the greenwash: It sounds like a lot, but won’t do much to cancel out the massive emissions that will be pumped out by the new coal-fired power station at Kingsnorth, Kent. The plant is so inefficient it would waste more than half the energy it generates. Yet E.ON is determined to push ahead, despite leading scientists saying coal poses the single biggest threat to the climate.


‘Sustainable power’

They say: Land Rover’s global green campaign, launched last month, boasts about the car’s unique relationship with the planet. Featuring stunning landscapes, the ads bluster about research into biodiesel engines, a new carbon off-setting scheme, and sustainable technology.

Behind the greenwash: Land Rover’s gas-guzzling 4x4s are bad news for the environment. The company has the technology to make fuel-efficient vehicles, but instead chooses to push urban 4x4s, which are unlikely to tackle anything steeper than a speedbump. In the UK, road transport accounts for about a quarter of the emissions that cause climate change.


‘Throw away’

They say: Shell’s “Don’t throw anything away – there is no away” campaign features an ad with a cartoon oil refinery emitting flowers, accompanied by the claim that Shell uses its waste CO2 to grow flowers, and waste sulphur to make concrete.

Behind the greenwash: It turned out that Shell only recycled 0.325 per cent of its CO2 emissions in this way, and barely more of its waste sulphur. In November, the ASA welcomed Shell’s assurance that the ad would no longer be used. Shell is less keen to tell us all about its project to extract oil from the Canadian tar – just about the most climate-wrecking form of fossil fuel extraction one could imagine.


‘Care about the environment? We do too’

They say: In a national newspaper ad easyJet heralded its modern fleet of aircraft which, it said, pumped out 30 per cent fewer emissions per passenger than their competitors’ planes.

Behind the greenwash: Another airline company, another dubious environmental claim. What easyJet neglected to mention was that its carbon-emission calculation was based on the number of passengers per flight. So the reason that emissions per passenger were much lower was because it crammed more passengers on to the aircraft, not because its planes were more fuel-efficient.The ASA, in a ruling in April last year, ordered easyJet not to repeat its claim.


The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has become so concerned by evidence of greenwashing that it has called an industry summit in June, at which environmentalists, advertising agencies and clients will come together. The ASA has seen complaints about environmental claims rise from 117, about 83 ads, in 2006, to 561, about 410 ads, in 2007. It hopes the event will help it to reflect current scientific understanding of key issues when it makes rulings.–is-it-just-greenwash-802672.html and its also non-profit sister websites,,,,, and are all owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia article.

1 Comment on “The Independent: Inside Story: Advertising environmentalism – Is it just greenwash?”

  1. #1 mallett
    on Jun 28th, 2009 at 00:26

    I have no comment to make,to each to it’s own…Iam looking for a job,as a truck driver,security job,roust about,iam willing to just jump into the oil industry..i have been to iraq,and many people have gotten kill over there,,we all got to go one day,and my beliefs is to enjoy this life as long as you can….and to get to know Jesus,while there is still time…..Tomorrow is not promised………Iam a die hard,now let’s make things happen……email me…[email protected]

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