Don’t Be Fooled: Introduction

Introduction

Since the early days of greenwashing, companies have gotten a lot sneakier. It’s much rarer than it once was to see bald-faced lies and deception, like when an oil company would rebrand itself as “Beyond Petroleum,” or when a paper company touted that it was actually helping trees, not hurting them. In 2012, we still see some such blatant examples – greenwashing, plain and simple. But increasingly, advertisers are finding more creative ways to present a tricky green face to hide a not-so-green reality.

Today, we’re seeing several new ways that advertisers are trying to trick us. The weak certification, or something that looks like a certification, is rising in popularity – witness SFI, the EcoAd, and Trusted Green logos. But even sneakier, today many companies are presenting leafy green ads that don’t actually make any claims about their products. Greenwashing ads have stopped making factual arguments – well, maybe they never were – and have entered the emotional realm. Today, greenwashing has a new arsenal: the trusted person who describes his or her hard work, the “straight talk” that makes impossibly vague statements superimposed over a beautiful landscape, and the distract-and-conquer approach, where spokesmen cite irrelevant statistics that make a different case entirely. All have one thing in common: they’re using a sneaky public relations strategy to mislead you.

Whatever it looks like, the ramifications are as bad as ever. If companies get more bang for their buck through advertising than through genuinely green initiatives, and if they can keep fooling consumers, we’ll never be able to build the movement for green products, services, and businesses. If we can’t trust green claims, fewer people will take any environmentalists seriously. And if bad companies can get away with their hijinks, good companies won’t get rewarded.

But, as ever, the truth is on our side. And we hope, with your help, that this report can help bring the truth out, hold the greenwashers accountable, and drive a more sustainable economy in our future.

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