The Great Greenwash

January 29, 2008

green•wash (grēn’wŏsh’, -wôsh’), n. 1. The dissemination of misleading information by an organization to conceal its abuse of the environment in order to present a positive public image. 2. The information so disseminated.

I wrote a few weeks ago about the proliferation of “green” in this economy: green eggs, green ham, green jeans, green clean, etc. It appears, however, that I’m not the only one to notice. Toby Van Fleet’s piece in today’s Portland Tribune chronicles the work of University of Oregon professors Deborah Morrison and Kim Sheenan, who assisted Texas-based ad firm EnviroMedia in creating the Greenwashing Index, an online database that allows users to contribute and rate ads based on how they greenveigle consumers into purchasing “green” products and services.

The 1 to 5 rating scale — 1 = Good Ad, 5 = Total Greenwashing — is based on a set of five criteria, quoted here in part, but outlined here in full:

  • The ad misleads with words
  • The ad misleads with visuals and/or graphics
  • The ad makes a green claim that is vague or seemingly unprovable
  • The ad overstates or exaggerates how green the product/company/service actually is
  • The ad leaves out or masks important information, making the green claim sound better than it is

Much like YouTube, the Greenwashing Index captures the ads in question and serves them up for rippling critique. My chalk horse: The Ford Escape Hybrid ad featuring Kermit the Frog-as-outdoorsman. Watch below.

Really, it couldn’t have been long before the eco-ad people snatched up Kermit’s touching theme, “It’s Not Easy Being Green.” But it looks like Brian Henson, son of immortal Muppetmaster Jim Henson, has relinquished the frog, flippers and all. The half-dozen folks who have rated Kermie’s commercial have given it an overall Greenwash rating of 4.41. Apparently, this Ford Escape Hybrid doesn’t get 36 MPG, and, perhaps more galling, the ad suggests that “being green” entails driving a hulking vehicle up the side of a mountain. One of the best comments on the video was left by Portland’s own Mr. Windy, who said, “I hope they paid out the *#@ to get Kermit to sell out.”

In the end, the Greenwashing Index cannot offer the most empirical solutions for navigating the green-product sidestreets and alleyways, but it does provide some perspective on the enviro-ethos of our fellow consumers.

*For extra credit, RSS the Greenwashing Index and watch the ads roll in. Thanks to Crosscut’s Kimberly Marlowe Hartnett for tuning in to this.


2 Responses to “The Great Greenwash”

  1. Justin said

    Greenwashers also diminish the work that’s being done by the truly green businesses across the country, like the Nomad Cafe in Oakland. There are companies who truly care about the environment and about changing cultural attitudes towards waste, and then there are companies that use the green message for commercial gain. Unfortunately, the practice of greenwashing is simply blurring the boundaries and making it harder for consumers to tell the difference.

    As I recall, a similar process occurred with the word “organic”…

  2. Kristine said

    Don’t you think it’s convenient that EnviroMedia puts up the GreenWashing Index? Sort of like how it’s convenient how camel reps will give you two free packs of cigarettes at bars if you give them your license and cigarette preferences?
    It’s all about research – they’re picking the environmental mind so that they can make more believable environmental ads.

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