The Unsuitablog

Exposing Ethical Hypocrites Everywhere!

How To Spot Greenwash

Posted by keith on April 10th, 2008

Greenwash Painting

I have a pretty good radar for greenwash, which is how it’s so easy to find subjects for The Unsuitablog; but the adverts, the policies, the promotions and the speeches full of bright green spit keep on coming. Someone is lapping this all up and it’s the consuming public: if not then why would companies and organisations keep on doing it?

My aim with The Unsuitablog is twofold, and you can all help me with it:

1) To make everyone adept at spotting greenwash as and when it is trotted out.

2) To make greenwashing as socially unacceptable as consuming hard drugs in front of your grandmother.

Without the first aim, the second aim cannot come true, which means that greenwashing will thrive, and those responsible will carry on doing their Earth killing behind closed doors.

If you are a regular reader of The Unsuitablog then you will already be quite adept at seeing how it is done, but here are some tips for everyone who wants a little help:

  • Be suspicious of all environmental claims. Don’t trust any claims unless you have verified them yourself.
  • If a company, in particular, takes out a large advertisement in a newspaper, or runs a TV advertisement saying how great their green credentials are — then they are hiding something, guaranteed. If someone is trying sell their “green” credentials then ask yourself, “why?”
  • If a company has a bad history it is highly unlikely to have changed overnight. Use web sites like SourceWatch and Corporate Watch, as well as this site, to find out the truth behind the mask.
  • Look out for poor use of scientific facts, especially when listening to politicians: “Reducing carbon emissions will protect the ozone layer”, “this technology is sustainable”, “emissions can be offset”, “the greenhouse effect is not certain” etc. All examples of rubbish that has no basis in fact, even the last one (think about it).
  • Look out for buzzwords that put a gloss on reality: “carbon intensity”, “sustainable development”, “carbon offsets”, “clean technology” etc. Another clear sign that something is being covered up.
  • Use your common sense and your instincts. If it doesn’t feel right then it probably isn’t.

And can I just ask a little favour? Please tell everyone you know about The Unsuitablog, and link here if you have a web site: the more people get to see the truth, the fewer lies will be told.

Now you have found the greenwash, it’s time to start really investigating it and getting the things you need to expose the greenwasher. If you fancy it, then read How To Investigate Greenwash…


27 Responses to “How To Spot Greenwash”

  1. Hilke Says:

    Hi Hans,

    at it, big time, reading labels all over, hardly buying prepacked.

    revert next week


  2. Hilke Says:

    solly, (giggle)

    hidden labelling very interesting, such as veg oils, means palm tree oils, got myself some shampoo, a.s.o. from “de tuinen in Holland, and ginseng with deer antlers. (I thought this was a fern, but no, these are true deer antlers) this a veg, shop, and I’ve written 2 them several times, went back to the shop and still havent got an answer,

    The toiletries are from Freeman, nice package stating tested on friends, but they use lanoline.

    Pissed off big time, because for one I want to buy a truly good animal free testing product, and secondly I’m spending a lot of dosh on being an animal friendly person, I’m without work and all the money I’ve got to spend is spent on responsable shopping.

    For the less fortunate ones, it is hard to shop animal friendly, doing my bestest.
    I’m without work, because I’m old, 54 years old, IT-Pro, old ms-Dos freak, something like 5 languages fluent, and another 5 skandi languages by musical ear.

    As I would love to live outside city surroundings, being a woman, being underpaid at the best of times, known to my friends as highly intelligent, am beached again in a cosmopolitan life, distancing myself at all times from profit making businesses, beached, and forced to work in a comercial company.


  3. Dan Says:

    haha, 2) To make greenwashing as socially unacceptable as consuming hard drugs in front of your grandmother – classic.

    We’ve got a little wiki on spotting greenwashing where folks can contribute their $0.02 and hopefully post examples as they see them. Keep up the great work,


  4. Jay Andrew Allen Says:

    Great advice. One thing that always irks me is claims that are true, but only trivially so. Marion Nestle highlighted a lot of these in the nutritional field in WHAT TO EAT – e.g., egg cartons declaring that their products were “low-carb.”

  5. » Are You Being Greenwashed? Environmental Blogging:: Writing for social change. Writing to making sense of contemporary controversies and debates. Writing to make a difference. Says:

    […] we as consumers should take to avoid greenwashing. To find out more ways to spot greenwash visit The Unsuitablog or to find out ways to not become another victim of greenwashing visit Govpro and to find out […]

  6. The Sietch Blog » How To Spot Greenwash Says:

    […] [Read the rest at The Unsuitablog] […]

  7. Need A Cold Shower? How ’bout A Greenwash Instead? | The Beanstockd Project Says:

    […] are not honest. Here’s a great site where people rank environmental ads. Here’s another one providing some useful […]

  8. Pablo Battu Says:

    Anyone got any ideas how to spot a company that is being genuinely green? – might be more helpful – if not as entertaining.

  9. keith Says:

    To be honest, Pablo, I find it very difficult to define a “green” company. “Green” and “business” are certainly mutually exclusive: business implies making a profit (that is, excess beyond that required for the employees to earn a living wage), and it is not possible to make a net profit and be genuinely sustainable (that is, zero negative environmental impact).

    “Company” is different: it does not necessarily imply profit, so off the top of my head I would say a green company is one that:

    1) Does not make a net profit
    2) Is genuinely sustainable

    Unfortunately, I can’t think of a single company that fulfils both of these criteria.


  10. The Sietch Blog » The Tools Of Greenwashing: 1. Adverts Says:

    […] is Greenwash. If you are a regular reader (for which I am very grateful) then you will already know how to spot greenwash. But just spotting it won’t stop it happening; we need to know more about the various tools […]

  11. Kent Madin Says:

    Here’s an example of what I call “GreenHubris”.

    I’ve been in touch with SC Johnson Company about their promotional video:

    Is it just me, or are those happy, “Greenlist” inspired shoppers stuffing their wares into disposable plastic bags?

    When we pointed this glaring disconnect out to SC Johnson we got the deadly “we will take your concern into account as we produce future ads”. Gee thanks. Not even a hint of “oops”!

    Am I way off base here, but isn’t this actually an exceptional opportunity to reinforce their corporate “green” image by declaring a forehead slapping moment and reshooting the offending 5 seconds of footage? And then sending out a press release about their epiphany? They could have even partnered with a “green” manufacturer of reusable bags.

    For people who are sensitive to the plastic bag issue the image of those products being bagged in plastic is jarring. It’s really quite damning since it seems that no one in the marketing division of SC Johnson noticed. Rather like that video that challenges you to count the dancers on stage and you miss the guy in the gorilla suit moon walking right through them. They were blindered by their focus on “Greenlist” products and getting Fisk Johnson, company president, in just the right balance of professionally casual attire.

    It’s not an overt example of Greenwashing, but it’s a great example of when someone tries so hard, too hard, to be Green and misses the irony.

  12. keith Says:

    Fair comment, and worth following up on. I particularly hate the “SC Johnson a family company” at the end of the ads; as though they aren’t some giant corporation who want to take over the world. Ha!


  13. Millie Says:

    See consumers rate real green ads:

    [Millie, this is already linked to.

    Just as a note, we are not “consumers”, we are people. The system likes us to be labelled “consumers” because it creates in us a notion that this is our raison d’etre — what about surviving as our first priority?



  14. vance Says:

    what about the computers you sit at to type these messages? are they made in a sustainable way? what about the energy they use?


  15. · How Green Is Your Brand? Says:

    […] to say that greenwashing (in which consumers are misled regarding the environmental practices of a company or the […]

  16. keith Says:


    No computer is sustainable – but to get the message across to the wider world requires computers, and that’s the sad irony. If I didn’t need to get the message across to so many people then there wouldn’t be so much of a problem; but there is and so I do. That said, my electricity use is tiny compared to most households and is also fully renewable. And I haven’t changed my machine for 5 years either.


  17. Beechwood EMEA · How Green Is Your Brand? Says:

    […] to say that greenwashing (in which consumers are misled regarding the environmental practices of a company or the […]

  18. chauhan Says:

    Come accross your organisation . Actually greenwash is going on massively in Tourism industry.
    Many companies use ecofriendly policies as a marketing tool and take no measures to implement them at all levels to which they out-source there services.

    I have seen many examples.

  19. keith Says:


    Please can you send me examples of Greenwash that you have seen – I would like to explore this area a lot more.



  20. John Dallas Says:

    U. S. car companies want us to believe that 30 to 35mpg cars are a good thing, and they seem to be increasing the size of their hybrid offerings each year. I’d call that greenwashing. We want/need a car big enough to feel safe in, but no bigger than that. I rarely see more than two passengers in any vehicle during my daily work commute, and most trucks are not hauling anything. A sports-car sized plug in electric car, without the sports-car price tag, will be a huge financial success for the first car company to offer them.

  21. US meets UK » Blog Archive » Eco friendly DJs Says:

    […] feel like everyday I hear about companies that are greenwashing their marketing.  Since there is no standard for “eco friendly” or whatever it means […]

  22. Rian O'Neill Says:

    Here’s a greenwash for the record books. A label was attached to the Christmas tree I bought last week that read “This spring the farmer who grew this tree will plant a new one in its place.” Duh. It’s called farming. See the label and read a bit more on the link above. Cheers!

    [Ed. I really must look around for some seasonal greenwash – shouldn’t be that difficult considering the c*** people email me :-) ]

  23. Louise Says:

    the ‘Greenhouse Effect’ is not conjecture; it is a fact. It is this mechanism which keeps our planet temperate and life as we know it viable. The issue of anthropologically induced ‘Climate Change’ is the matter under debate [Ed. Amongst whom, exactly? Anyhow, if you don’t believe we are burning the Earth up then I suggest you go somewhere else, Louise – my web sites make a very simple assumption: that civilized humans are destroying the planet. Without certain axioms we make no progress – you are just playing the stalling game], as temperatures naturally fluctuate over the course of time and have done since well before the advent of humans.

    It is simple matters like this which fog true debate and cause the reputability of the author to be called into question. This obviously extends to both pro and anti Green campaigners. [Which is why greenwashing exists – to fog the debate and keep the profit machine turning over…]

  24. Larkin Says:

    To make greenwashing as socially unacceptable as consuming hard drugs in front of your grandmother – classic.

    Where did you think i learned it from!…..Kidding

    You have given a name to something that I have been noticing and those around me don’t get or more commonly, don’t care. Added to that are stories presented in the news that are thinly veiled commercials.
    On the political side, these agendas are advanced through the use of Astroturfing. Fake public introduced groups designed to support. Astroturf is also green.

  25. keith Says:

    Hi Larkin

    Here’s the one about Astroturfs.

    I strongly recommend you follow the “How To…” series, linked to on the left of the screen.


  26. modernhouse | How Green Is Your Brand? Says:

    […] to say that greenwashing (in which consumers are misled regarding the environmental practices of a company or the […]

  27. don’t be greenwashed « eco-centrique Says:

    […] of note:how to spot greenwashingtools of greenwashing six sins of greenwashingsemiotics behind greenwashinghow green is bottled […]

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