or, how do the big companies try to take the wind out of the environmental movements’ sails?


Over the past few decades, a new generation of consumer culture has grown, one which is self-conscious about making choices during shopping about food and other products. This consciousness has resulted in a demand for eco-, bio- and green products. When companies realized this demand, they decided to emphasize ‘the green side’ of their products, which led to a different style of advertisement and PR. Some companies chose ‘the hard, green way’- a systematic reworking of internal mechanisms. However, the majority took the easier and cheaper solution, changing only the face of the company, a tactic now commonly referred to as ‘greenwashing’. With this in mind, the question we are presented with is, are the products we are buying truly eco friendly or are they just the same old products in new packaging?


As consumers, we have realized that we are voting for brands and companies with every dollar spent. Conscious consumers want to choose ethically responsible companies and trade marks. That’s why companies are interested in building up new, green, ethical, environmentally friendly appearances.


The ‘greenwashing’ toolbox contains many tools including the use of fallacies, denying bibliographic sources, forcing half-truths, demagogical rhetoric and the manipulation of opinions through human emotions. Once people come to realize that they are being mislead in terms of the validity of their ecological products, they loose faith in all green consumer solutions. It’s no wonder that 70% of American consumers think that to call a product green is just a marketing bluff made by companies. Governments in Scandinavia have recognized the danger in ‘Greenwashing’ and thus made official regulations against it.


So let us give you some examples!


Nowadays you have probably heard about genetically modified organizations, or GMO-s. Without exception, the species that are modified genetically are registered property of the big agro companies that have parented them. It’s a manipulation of nature and comodification of DNA, the substance of life. Because its such big business, the argument for GMO-s made by companies are one of the best known examples of ‘greenwashing’.


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BP, one of the worlds largest, multinational oil companies, has spent millions of dollars creating newer and newer eco friendly facades. Beginning in 1990, BP spent 100 million dollars on a campaign that advertised their fuel as not emitting any harmful particles. In an effort to make their name less obviously fossil fuel related, they shortened it from British Petroleum to BP. Then, in 2000, BP spent 200 million dollars on a new campaign to change their name from BP to Beyond Petroleum.


In 2010, all of these greenwashings were revealed when the oil spill catastrophe happened in the Gulf of Mexico. After, BP attempted to buy Google and Yahoo keywords for searchings on this topic, revealing BP’s fear of the deterioration of their ‘green’ face. They spent 10,000 dollars per day on those keywords, money that could have been more responsibly spent on cleaning up the real disaster.


In Hungary, there is an organization called Climate Club. From the name, one would assume that it works to alleviate climate change. However, the truth is that the biggest sponsors of this club are the power plants that actually have a big cause on climate change. These sponsors include

-the biggest Hungarian electricity supplier, Hungarian Power Companies Ltd.,

-the Hungarian Paks Nuclear Power Plant,

- Mátrai Power Plant Ltd. Which is a coal based power plant,

-and a covering company which includes founder members from Bayer and Monsanto, two big famous genetically modified food (GMO) producers.


Corporate Social Responsibility, or CSR, is a commonly used term that refers to the branch of a company that has control of the PR in connection to the enviroment. Nowadays, most companies have a CSR program. However, what does this mean in terms of actual accountability? Ideally, CSR would be the large companies’ answer to the questionings of ethics and social responsibility posed by civil and state powers. But in this CSR programs seem to fall short. As previously mentioned, it is a good idea, but nowadays it is just used to make the companies’ face greener and to hide the details of unsustainable functions and routines. Ideally, CSR should mean for the company to adjust to questioning capitalism, to adapt to the fact of non-limitless growing and to be fully responsible for the society and the environment. Nowadays, the companies CSR is poorly used just to recycle some products sometimes, to prove that they use both sides of paper in their offices and to make some charity events.


How to spot greenwashing?

Some suggestions from are:

-Be suspicious of all environmental claims. Don’t trust anything unless you have verified them yourself.

-Look out for poor use of scientific facts, especially when listening to politicians: “Reducing carbon emissions will protect the ozone layer”, “this technology is sustainable”, “emissions can be offset”, “the greenhouse effect is not certain” etc. All examples of rubbish that has no basis in fact, even the last one (think about it).

-Look out for buzzwords that put a gloss on reality: ”carbon intensity”, “sustainable development”, “carbon offsets”, “clean technology” etc. Another clear sign that something is being covered up.

The easiest solution for eradicating greenwashing lies in human ethical consciousness. If the individuals disagree with the way companies manipulate consumers, as we have discussed, then they will create an informed opinion about the dangers of greenwashing and spread the information by word of mouth.


So what can you do as a company worker against greenwashing? Use your voice and advice to the company to truly be environmentally friendly.


And what can you do as a marketing specialist against the greenwashing? You can advise your partners not to use greenwashing methods, because in the longer term, the consumers will be more satisfied by a truly ethically responsible company.





Website about greenwashing in Danish and English!



Most of the sources come from Hungarian green organizations and CSR experts: