“greenwashing” – A fairy tale of the green giant!

10 May

Once upon a time, there was a huge giant covered in a cloak of trees, playing with the clouds, roaming the woods and valleys, and listening to the harmonies of willows blowing softly in the wind; he surely beamed with joy and sereneness. He was kind, the green giant: He cropped little wind generators, played the strings of overhead power lines and arranged tidal power plants in the infinite vastness of the ocean.

It can be so easy to make big things happen. When you’re a giant!


New advertising campaign “RWE – the energy to lead”

This slogan belongs to the imagefilm production of the advertising agency Jung von Matt as part of RWE’s big budget advertising campaign in Europe. Indeed, I was more than astonished to hear about the big news: The energy giant intends to conquer the eco- friendly market, truly in the spirit of “RWE – the energy to lead”.

I must add, in the purpose of explanation, that I was quite young the day I first saw the broadcast at a movie theatre (must have been somewhat around 2008). Yes, I left myself in the belief simply having missed the amazing transformation of the black giant into the green saviour. I did not impeach the credibility of the statement; not at all since I was young, right? – The better to be enlightened only 3 years later by an anti- campaign of Greenpeace. And there I was, being told that RWE’s campaign had actually been nothing else but a process of greenwashing.

More Hype than Substance

The term greenwashing is best described by EnviroMedia Social Marketing & the University of Oxford: “It’s greenwashing when a company or organization spends more time and money claiming to be “green” through advertising and marketing than actually implementing business practices that minimize environmental impact. It’s whitewashing, but with a green brush”.

Well, considering the facts that:

  • only 2% of RWE’s energy comes from green and sustainable energy,
  • wind power stations amount 0,1 % of RWE’s- existing power plants,
  • RWE yearly produces 170 million tons on CO²- emissions, that is 18 % of the national greenhouse gas emissions by brown coal mining,
  • Group’s CEO Jürgen Großmann is defending the lifetime extensions for German nuclear power plants and
  • RWE steers only 15 % of its investments towards renewable energies,

this green campaign truly is rather hot air than real substance!

A mass movement on the energy market

But RWE is just among several companies that follow unconventional methods to paint afresh their image. To name just a few, there is McDonalds and the colour change from red to green, BP and its green- yellow flower as the Helios- symbol, and Lufthansa with its slogan “Wir tun viel – für möglichst wenig Co²- Emissionen”. Let us also not forget the other two companions of the energy giant RWE: Vattenfall and E.ON. All of them do not really provide honest information about their main practices and sources of revenue.

In fact, greenwashing has become a widespread practice within the competing energy market. Ulrich Müller, author of LobbyControl, names the climate debate as one of the most important reasons for such manipulating process. Companies promote their environmental commitment in order to reduce harsher measures for climate protection. They also seek to expand market share at the expense of those rivals not involve in greenwashing.

Basically, they do not offer anything else but a sedative pill for the public. Strong words and probably a clever strategy – still, I am convinced that it’s not wisely chosen.

Future development

In times of increasing environmental awareness and advanced information technology, consumers have become more critical than ever. They have educated themselves on the perils of greenwashing (thanks to guerrilla communication à la Greenpeace). Furthermore, events such as the Worst EU Greenwash Award can enhance certain countermovements. As every business seems to invest green, people look for true innovations and differences – not in future perspectives but now. If public is increasingly informed about manipulation issues, they will certainly focus and support companies that best implement green technologies.

2 Responses to ““greenwashing” – A fairy tale of the green giant!”

  1. lisabu00 May 11, 2011 at 9:50 pm #

    Hey Nadja,
    I really loved your post, especially the introduction which emphasizes the fairytale character you spoke about in your title.
    I also think your example of RWE was very well chosen and underlining your statement with numbers and facts made it very strong.
    Because I intented to write about the same topic, I did some research and found a lot of famous firms which pretend to be green too – very shocking I think.

    But anyways. I made another discovery which boosted my hope:

    I mean it’s just a plan, but in case it is true and will be implemented, a huge step in the food industry would be done and it could be seen as a prototype for others.

    all in all,
    I’m glad you published first, because it’s a great post!


  1. To be cool – Corporate Citizenship. « everythingaroundit - May 12, 2011

    […] those who really want to rescue our earth. But like we saw in the last blog post of our colleague Nadja, Greenwashing is common method to give a business a greener touch with no moral […]

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