One of the initiatives under discussion at the Grenelle is how to keep track of greenwashing in advertising. The term greenwashing applies when companies or governments spend more money or time advertising being green, than on investing in environmentally sound practices. In business, greenwashing often means changing the name and/or label.
NGOs grouped under l’Alliance pour la Planete have called for the creation of an independent authority which will monitor the advertising industry with a particular eye on the greenwash issue. Right now, the veracity of advertising is handled by the BVP (Bureau de Vérification de la Publicité), the French member of the European Advertising Standards Alliance. This body can hardly be called a vigilant watchdog as it comprises clients, ad agencies and the media.
The website for the Alliance has a list of recent advertising campaigns which it has accused of flagrant greenwashing, as well as being in violation of standards set by the BVP. Take for instance this campaign by Total, the French oil giant.
The ad slogan reads: “Wind: One of the most natural ways to advance”. The Alliance alleges that the ad is deceptive because it leads us to believe that Total is converting massively to wind energy, whereas in reality the company has put into service a total of five wind farms since 2003 at a refinery in northern France, near Dunkirk.
Or this ad by French nuclear company Areva which says: “Our energies have a future: A future with no CO2.” This suggests that the nuclear industry holds the key to solving the problem of carbon emissions, whereas in fact there are many areas which are not covered by nuclear electriticy and what’s more the nuclear sector has a limited capacity for development.
In France, 31 billion euros – or 2 percent of GDP – was spent on advertising in 2005. All those billions have just one purpose – to stimulate consumption – most of which will be harmful to the environment. A report released by the British progressive think-tank IPPR last month (quoted by Martin Gibson in the Financial Times) suggests that greenwash is potentially undermining efforts to tackle climate change. If the public does not challenge the green credentials of companies which are paying mere lip-service to the issue, progress towards resource efficiency and genuine sustainability will be slow and piecemeal.