Newsweek’s Take on Greenwash

by Claudette

September 29, 2009

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.”


Read the full article and sidebar.

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