Guest Blogger Bill Hazelton - Greenwashing: How Corporations Are Ripping Off Armchair Environmentalists

HomeConsumer blogMar Guest Blogger Bill Hazelton - Greenwashing: How Corporations Are Ripping Off Armchair Environmentalists
Many thanks to Bill Hazelton of CreditCardAssist for taking the time to write today's post. As always let us know what you think on our Facebook page. The views expressed here are not necessarily the views of, but are solely those of our guest writer Bill.

We're being duped, all of us. That's right. Americans are so eager to protect the world we've spent decades destroying that we'll buy anything that claims to be green - even if the product is actually toxic to Mother Nature. Every day, consumers pour millions of dollars into "organic" paper that was manufactured in fume-spewing factories and "clean" fuel that causes mutations in fish. Listen, just because a microwave comes with a little leaf on the package, that does not mean thats its better for the environment than any other appliance. A beautiful, long TV commercial overflowing with rivers, owls and sad fiddle music does not mean that the chemical corporation is really having a "Walden" moment. What these things really mean is simple: marketing agencies have become very good at appealing to the casual environmentalist in us all.

It's a marketing technique known as "greenwashing," and everyone's doing it, from Wall Street banks to international airlines. False claims about environmental awareness have become so pervasive in advertising that there are actually entire websites devoted to exposing the practice. If you really want to help the environment, you can start by avoiding these Eco-friendly impersonators. But to do that, you'll need to familiarize yourself with some of the worst greenwashers in the media today.

1) "Clean" Coal. The coal industry's latest ad campaign revolves around the idea that "clean coal" is far better for the environment when compared to oil and other fuel sources. It only takes a few minutes on the Internet to discover that clean coal is really a dirty lie. Coal is still the largest source of mercury pollution in the U.S. Coal companies dump 33.6 tons of the toxic element into our waterways every year, and they're responsible for singlehandedly destroying over a million acres of the Appalachian mountain range - including 470 mountains themselves. If that's clean, than you definitely don't want to know what dirty coal does to the ecosystem.

2) Charity Credit Cards. Nearly every credit card issuer offers a card with a tie-in to an environmental charity. Judging by the striking pictures of endangered animals that adorn these cards, you might think that each card donates half of every transaction to its respective charity. Unfortunately, the amount of money that charities actually receive from these products is far less than that. Green America, the ethical consumerism nonprofit, receives a fraction of a penny for every dollar spent on its licensed credit card. Bank of America throws a sum at the World Wildlife Fund when you sign up for your card, but after that, just $0.25 of every $100 you spend goes towards saving endangered species. That's depressing, but it does explain why the tiger on the BofA World Wildlife Fund Card looks so sad.

3) Fuel-Efficient Cars. Recently, GM claimed that it had more 30-miles-per-gallon street cred than any other manufacturer because it had more cars in its lineup that hit that mark. In reality, 12 of the 20 cars that GM is touting for fuel efficiency are discontinued models of discontinued brands , like Saturn. But this exaggerated marketing ploy isn't the worst thing GM is doing in the name of environment friendliness. As part of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers (which also includes "green- states to repeal their greenhouse gas emissions regulations. That way, car companies won't have to bother installing those pesky little catalytic converters anymore.

4) Carbon Offsets. Carbon-offset companies offer guilt-ridden checkbook environmentalists a way to shrink their carbon footprint: they can simply fund environmental replenishment programs. That's all well and good, but what these for-profit companies aren't telling their customers is that many of the programs funded by this $700 million industry aren't doing anything to reduce global warming. In reality, a lack of regulation in the industry has made carbon offsets into a kind of modern-day snake oil. Much of the money disappears into the pockets of self-styled promoters and other strange, suited men who blew into town like tumbleweeds as soon as the carbon-offset frontier was opened.

These four products best illustrate the problem of greenwashing today, but for every apparent example, several others lurk unseen. Every day, America's largest companies launch new campaigns designed to fleece armchair environmentalists out of money that could potentially be used to really make a change. Don't let yourself be a part of the problem. If you're passionate about a certain cause, remember that armchairs are not technically a part of the natural world as we define it - so let's get out of ours. The next time you're tempted to buy a product that claims to be on good terms with Mother Nature, ask yourself "can this really be sustainable?" and "is this for real?" Then you'll find yourself with a real question on your mind.

Bill Hazelton is the founder of CreditCardAssist, a firm that advises consumers and small business owners on credit card payments and other perils and pitfalls of the credit card industry. He's been cited in publications like the New York Post, the San Francisco Chronicle and more. Phone Number & Customer Shortcuts, Ratings & More ›

Posted by GetHuman on Fri, 30 Mar 2012 1:35pm

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