The Unsuitablog

Exposing Ethical Hypocrites Everywhere!

Archive for October, 2008

British Gas: More Commercialism In Education

Posted by keith on 29th October 2008

Gas Generation Gas Green Gas

Following on from my series about supermarkets in schools, here is something that has been irritating me for a while: British Gas are part of a huge energy company known as Centrica, which operates in energy markets across the world. For many years now BG have been losing out to other energy companies in the domestic market due to the deregulation of the energy industry; they have managed to diversify into electricity, but are nothing like the force they were before the 1990s in the UK.

So what have they decided to do? Get into the business of education, subtly but incidiously. Here is the advert for their Generation Green campaign…

Like the supermarket campaigns, schools can get rewards for collecting vouchers, or “leaves” (love the green tinge already!). I have no idea how many leaves are required for a solar panel, so it would be foolish for me to suggest that it would be an extraordinary amount, but it might be – that’s all I’m saying.

More importantly for British Gas, there is a huge amount of subtle marketing going on:

– To get 200 leaves, a school can download a lesson plan which contains lots of information about saving energy, but also has a British Gas logo on every page. The lesson plans are particularly interesting in that when they discuss the causes of climate change they highlight how bad coal is, but completely neglect to mention natural gas as also being a source of both carbon dioxide and methane. Interesting.

– To get 150 leaves, a parent can complete a British Gas “Energy Saver’s Report“. I started to fill one out, honestly, and at Step 6 was asked what my main heating fuel was – it is wood, but this is not an option. I carried on, using gas as my source, and when I got to this page things got even stranger – I could not say that I only heat my home in the evening, and I could not say that my thermostat was set to 15C. The minimum allowed was 19 degrees centigrade – very hot for us. I completed the plan, and was offered some nice services and goods that could be supplied by British Gas, and that I had only earned 100 leaves!

This entire operation has light green platitudes stamped all over it, just like the supermarket greenwashing I wrote about last week. The changes suggested are not bad, but they are insufficient and completely within the comfort zone of a commercial organisation.

It also, like the supermarket vouchers, allows a large commercial entity to worm its way into a so-called place of education, via the teachers and students using the lesson plans, and the parents of the students filling out surveys in order to earn the schools more leaves.

Now watch the advert again and see how good you feel about British Gas.

(although I love the idea of shutting down the lights at the supermarket – go on kids, you know it makes sense!)

Posted in Corporate Hypocrisy, Promotions, Public Sector Hypocrisy, Sponsorship | 4 Comments »

Michelin: Compromising Logic To Save Energy

Posted by keith on 27th October 2008

Michelin 1

Michelin sell tyres. Lots and lots of them: in 2006 Michelin sold about 220 million tyres, and tyre sales account for nearly 90% of all Michelin’s business. If it were not for tyres, Michelin would not exist. In fact, if it were not for replacement tyres, which account for 75% of all Michelin’s tyre sales, then Michelin would be but a small husk of its current behemothic self.

Michelin needs people to replace their tyres, which is why Michelin have begun a massive greenwashing campaign.

The advert above, if clicked upon takes the web user to a handy calculator. I tried it out on my rarely used car, a medium sized diesel estate which manages 40MPG (about 32MPG in the USA). Apparently, over the lifetime of a new set of Michelin replacement tyres, I could prevent 202kg of carbon dioxide entering the atmosphere.

Fab! So, let’s look at this a little closer; first, pausing for another commercial break…

Michelin 2

You see, I don’t even have to leave my car at home to be environmentally friendly – according to the wording of the advert, it is just as good to drive. Really?

That 202kg of carbon dioxide needs looking at carefully. According to the UK Vehicle Licencing Office my car emits about 170 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometre, so that means that Michelin tyres allow me to drive for an extra 1200km (720 miles) without emitting any carbon dioxide. But go to the “REDUCE CO2 EMISSIONS” page, and you find that the per kilometre reduction in emissions is only 4%, which implies (a) the tyres last for 30,000km (that is utterly incredible) and (b) in order to get that 202kg saving I have to drive for 30,000km.

Let’s put that another way: Michelin are effectively saying — and are being pretty explicit about this — that it is environmentally fine to drive 30,000km in order to save the equivalent of only 1,200km of carbon emissions. That means that the remaining 28,800km (or 4.8 tonnes of carbon dioxide) has, in Michelin’s world, disappeared!

“Now you don’t have to leave your car at home to save fuel!”

There is almost nothing I can say to make this acceptable: that isn’t just greenwashing, it is a blatant lie! Maybe Michelin would care to explain how this remarkable advert ever came to see the light of day.

Posted in Adverts, Corporate Hypocrisy | 2 Comments »

The Guardian: Anti-Greenwashing Going Mainstream

Posted by keith on 24th October 2008

Guardian Greenwashing Title

Question: When a media company decides they will start a campaign against greenwashing, but still has a few chinks in their armour, does that invalidate their campaign?

I’m not 100% sure of the answer, but I’m going to give The Guardian the benefit of the doubt, given that they have an impressive track record in environmental reporting (probably unrivalled in the mass-media) and have consistently provided a voice to (almost) the entire range of environmental opinions in a representative manner. Sadly, being representative means that the few voices calling for a removal of Industrial Civilization are not heard; but I think that will also change soon.

So, it is with a small fanfare, and a smile on my face that The Unsuitablog welcomes The Guardian into the Anti-Greenwashing frey: they have launched a new Thursday column which started by laying into a subject that I had meant to cover some time ago – “green” electricity tariffs.

Most of us are not foolish enough to suppose that our electricity supplier specially packages up “green energy” for us, and shoves it down the wires. We just get regular electricity, of course. But most of us would suppose that if we pay a green tariff, someone somewhere generates more renewable energy – and burns less fossil fuel – than they would if we hadn’t done our bit for the environment.

But no. In fact, we are usually subsidising the power companies to do what they are required by law to do already. Worse, despite us paying through our green noses, they still can’t meet their targets. Then they rub our noses in it by selling what “green electricity” they do produce over and over again.

The writer of the column is Fred Pearce, author of “When The Rivers Run Dry” amongst other works, and long time popularist of environmental issues for New Scientist. In fact, his efforts at New Scientist have been remarkable in turning a once staid and non-reflective journal into one that reflects the issues of the day in a frank and honest way.

Let’s hope that The Guardian doesn’t pull any punches when dealing with greenwashing: especially the kind carried out by its advertisers – now that will be an interesting test of nerve.

Posted in Good News! | 3 Comments »

Friends Of The Earth To Merge With UK Government

Posted by keith on 22nd October 2008


In a surprise move today, Andy Atkins, Executive Director of Friends Of The Earth UK, announced that the former environmental pressure group are to become an agency of the UK Government, working within the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Although not explicitly giving details of the move, Atkins (47) speaking to The Guardian newspaper stated:

“You could argue about where it starts – people taking action or government taking action,” he said. “You need both. Friends of the Earth is putting its weight behind government taking the right action that then makes it easier for people to do the right thing.”

The merger with DEFRA was hinted at in a press release put out on the announcement of Atkins’ appointment at Executive Director,

Under Andy’s leadership, Friends of the Earth will continue to push for political action to tackle global environmental challenges.

although no one outside of the charity’s leadership could have predicted such a radical change in structure.

This acceptance of the need for independent environmental charities to work in government in order to create policies that drive public activity makes a mockery of the ideas of more hard-core environmental campaigners, including existing members of FoE, that say governments ultimately work for the benefit of the economy and their corporate masters. With this single action, Friends Of The Earth have made it clear that the future should be defined by government policies rather than individual or community action that may, unfortunately, fall foul of the laws that have been put in place to protect the economy environment.

Posted in NGO Hypocrisy, Spoofs | No Comments »

Domestic Greenwashing: We’re All At It!

Posted by keith on 21st October 2008

Woman Recycling

A strange determination struck me while on a run this morning: it was while passing a front “garden” that had been block-paved, leaving a little space for a minuscule flower bed and, get this, a patch of grass four feet by one foot. This was not just any grass, though, it was astroturf! What could have passed through the minds of the people who laid this tiny eccentricity in front of their house:

“You know what, we’re going to have too much paving in the front, we need a bit of greenery.”

“But we need to park three cars.”

“Ok, let’s plonk down a few petunias in a tiny brick flower bed, and some astroturf.”

Maybe the conversation didn’t go exactly like that but, as I say, the thought of this made me determined not to let readers get smug about the various environmental crimes that corporations and authorities are carrying out — your own back, or front, garden is probably not that rosy either: you are probably greenwashing.

– Every time you do the recycling and you think it’s ok to generate waste, you are greenwashing.

– Every flight you take and you offset your emissions, use public transport to get to the airport or do some other act of servitude, you are greenwashing.

– Every piece of electrical equipment or furniture you buy new and then take your old one to the charity shop, or sell it second hand, you are greenwashing.

– Every car journey you take during which you decide not to use the air conditioning to save fuel, you are greenwashing.

– Every tree you plant, while putting your money in a bank that makes money out of deforestation, you are greenwashing.

– Every time you say to someone else that you care about the planet, then go on and do something environmentally irresponsible, you are greenwashing.

– Every time you do something that damages nature and then carry out some minor act in order to assuage your guilt or make you appear “green”, you are greenwashing.

I am not about to cast down every trivial act of environmental improvement, in some cases they may be useful first steps, and sometimes you don’t have a choice in this society but to do something a little damaging; but in many other cases these acts of Domestic Greenwashing simply act to attach you to the way of living that has caused the global environmental catastrophe in the first place. By making yourself feel that trivial positive actions permit major negative actions, you are assisting Industrial Civilization in its relentless grinding down of natural processes in order to fulfil a hopelessly outdated dream.

You don’t have to be part of that dream, and you don’t have to be a hypocrite. You are better than that.

Posted in Advice, General Hypocrisy | 10 Comments »

School Supermarket Vouchers Special: Part 3 – Winners, Losers And Fighting Back

Posted by keith on 17th October 2008

Tesco Child

In the previous part of this series I wrote about two prime examples of greenwash being used to maximise the success of School Supermarket Voucher Schemes. In this final part I will explain who the real winners and losers are, and what you can do to change things…

By now it’s pretty clear that supermarkets are not giving anything away with their voucher schemes, and may be gaining an awful lot — but it’s also possible that schools get something out of these schemes too, as exemplified by the quotes in Part Two. If it is indeed the case that schools benefit from these schemes, then how do you explain the Tesco advert below:

There’s no shortage of urgency to get everyone you could possibly influence to go down to their local Tesco and get hold of vouchers; but maybe Tesco, or Sainsburys, or Morrisons, or Asda are being genuinely altruistic and the extra sales are just a useful by-product of providing a valuable social service. To help you decide, I have carried out a short analysis of the four schemes mentioned (note that these are the four largest supermarket chains in the UK, and they all ran or are running schemes in 2008, so I’m not picking on any one company) to find out who gains most financially from them. You can access the relevant catalogue by clicking on the supermarket name. I have only used items that represent the overall range (low, mid and high value), and for which I can reasonably accurately provide a sales price.

Tesco Computers For Schools

Tesco CD-R Pack
Voucher = 360
Sale Price = £3
Voucher Price = £3600
Store/School Benefit Ratio = 120:1 (i.e. store gains £120 for every £1 school gains)

Samsung S630 Digital Camera
Vouchers = 3300
Sale Price = £70
Voucher Price = £33,000
Store/School Benefit Ratio = 471:1

Apple 20″ iMac
Vouchers = 26,500
Sale Price = £900
Voucher Price = £260,500
Store/School Benefit Ratio = 290:1

Asda Go Green For Schools

Eco-Ed Poster Set
Vouchers = 300
Sale Price = £6
Voucher Price = £3000 (based on one carrier bag containing £10 worth of goods)
Store/School Benefit Ratio = 500:1

Pocket Microscope Set
Vouchers = 800
Sale Price = £30
Voucher Price = £8000
Store/School Benefit Ratio = 266:1

Bird View Remote Camera System
Vouchers = 3000
Sale Price = £170
Voucher Price = £30,000
Store/School Benefit Ratio = 176:1

Sainsburys Active Kids

PVC Rounders Bat
Vouchers = 94
Sale Price = £6
Voucher Price = £940
Store/School Benefit Ratio = 156:1

V12 Panther Cricket Bat
Vouchers = 280
Sale Price = £14
Voucher Price = £2800
Store/School Benefit Ratio = 200:1

Butterfly Compact Outdoor Table Tennis Table
Vouchers = 7969
Sale Price = £240
Voucher Price = £79,690
Store/School Benefit Ratio = 332:1

Morrisons Let’s Grow

All Purpose Plant Food
Vouchers = 68
Sale Price = £7
Voucher Price = £680
Store/School Benefit Ratio = 97:1

Graduate Spade
Vouchers = 340
Sale Price = £20
Voucher Price = £3400
Store/School Benefit Ratio = 170:1

4′ x 6′ Greenhouse Twin Wall
Vouchers = 4979
Sale Price = £260
Voucher Price = £49,790
Store/School Benefit Ratio = 192:1

What is very clear from the above analysis, is that with nothing else taken into account, the financial benefit to the supermarket is between 100 and 500 times the benefit gained by the school. Bear in mind that although vouchers would be given with shopping regardless of whether the shopper bought more than they normally do, the schemes are (as the advert at the beginning of this article showed) are designed to take custom from other stores, so there is a net benefit to the store that gains the most publicity: hence the posters and banners provided to schools. Also, the sale price of an item is likely to be much lower to the store, equivalent to the wholesale price of the goods purchased by the shopper — so, the ratio provided is a good reflection of how much the store benefits financially from the schemes.

There are, of course some benefits to the schools — here they are:

1) Equipment
2) Information packs

That said, here’s a list of the benefits, in addition to increased sales, to the supermarkets:

1) Free in-school advertising
2) Customer loyalty and children as future customers
3) Socially responsible image
4) Ability to influence curriculum

The outcome is very clear: the supermarkets are the outright winners of these schemes, in almost every way imaginable. The losers are the shoppers who will buy far more than normal to obtain vouchers but, most of all the children who are being subjected to continual corporate brainwashing, right under the noses of the very people who have been entrusted with their education and well-being.

The supermarkets aren’t the only businesses responsible for this, either: brands like Flora, Cadburys, Walkers and Nestle are all competing for a piece of the education system, and the attention of children not just in the UK, but right across the world, and it’s getting more intense all the time.

What You Can Do

If this makes you feel angry and determined to do something, there are many things you can do.

1) Join a campaign group: in the USA, the main group is Commercial Alert; in Ireland, the group is Commercial Free Education. Incredibly, no such group exists in the UK, unless you can tell me otherwise. If you are keen to set up such a group then The Unsuitablog will be happy to support you.

2) Tell teachers, friends and children about the harm caused by commercial advertising in schools, and the huge benefits the supermarkets and other businesses gain from such schemes (or rather, commercial promotions). Refer to this study if you need evidence, or show people the catalogues and posters for examples. Write letters to newspapers, blog about the subject and repost the links to this series of articles:

Schools Supermarket Vouchers Special: Part 1
Schools Supermarket Vouchers Special: Part 2
Schools Supermarket Vouchers Special: Part 3

3) Refuse vouchers when offered them, explaining your reasons and, if you can, don’t go to supermarkets at all. Write to the offending companies saying that you will not be a customer unless they stop running such promotions.

4) Demand that your school (or your childrens school) removes advertising from within in grounds, or on its boundaries. This is a breach of ethics and trust. First speak to the head teacher and if this doesn’t help, write to the board of governors. If this is unsuccessful then you may have to take direct action.

5) Subvertise and/or remove offending advertising in and around schools. A pair of wire cutters is very useful for removing banner adverts on school boundaries, and if you come across posters in and around the school then simply remove them — if challenged then ask why the posters are there in the first place.

Posted in Corporate Hypocrisy, Promotions, Sponsorship | 4 Comments »

School Supermarket Vouchers Special: Part 2 – Greenwashing Children

Posted by keith on 15th October 2008

Profit Greenwash

In the first part of this series I explained how supermarkets have infiltrated schools with their clever voucher schemes, and the various tricks that the business use to ensure they are as successful as possible. In this part I will highlight two attempts at greenwashing that have been accepted as fact by school leaders, teachers, parents and children…

Greenwashing stinks! That you already know. What isn’t always clear, though, is when greenwashing is actually taking place: you can use this guide to help with its identification, but when you have something as insidious as a school voucher scheme being accepted wholeheartedly by everyone attached to thousands of schools, then the whole greenwashing concept starts to seem a little hazy.

It’s not. There is nothing hazy about the following acts of greenwashing except the minds of the people who have allowed it to be part of the “educational” process…

Morrisons’ Let’s Grow

If you read my entries on The Sietch and The Earth Blog, you will know that I am a huge supporter of many types of self-sufficiency, which includes — to a very large extent — growing your own food. So, anything that gets children interested in the potential of home growing as a source of food is obviously a good thing: it removes the carbon footprint of “food miles”; it encourages children to take an interest in where their food comes from; it can cause a dramatic shift in diet from processed, high-energy foods to natural, healthy ones; most importantly it can help reconnect children to the very landbase which we depend upon for our survival.

So why are Morrisons, the fourth largest supermarket chain in the UK, trying to bring self-sufficiency to schools around the country — have they discovered a moral bone within their, well-publicised, history of environmental stonewalling?

Let’s Grow aims to help schools capture the imagination of the nation’s kids to show them that food doesn’t just come from supermarkets. By collecting Let’s Grow vouchers you’ll be enabling kids to get their hands dirty for good reason by giving them the opportunity to grow their own food in the school grounds.

All very worthy, and on message. Food doesn’t just come from supermarkets: very true, and seemingly in opposition to the raison d’etre of a supermarket. But take a closer look at the “Fact Sheet For Teachers” and things start to become clearer.

The key points are easy to identify:

1) There is, of course, the required grocery spend for vouchers — £10 for one, in this case — so it is clear from the off that this isn’t a social enterprise on behalf of the business.

2) On registration, the school are supplied with “free” teaching resources. The guides are pretty good: they cover all the basics about preparation, composting, growing, harvesting and many other things. Most of the guides are branded with the Morrisons logo.

3) Schools are provided with posters and banners, which they can display all round the school and, very importantly, on the school boundaries, so that passers-by can see what the school, and Morrisons, are doing.

As you will see in Part Three, the voucher purchase alone makes this “green” scheme very good for business, as does the branding: but its the nature of the business itself, a huge business with a turnover of £8bn in the last financial year, that makes this so droll. Morrisons, like all large supermarkets, import the vast majority of their produce from overseas and, unlike some other chains, push their “budget” produce very heavily, at the expense of local and organic goods, which are routinely sidelined. This is the profit motive writ large. The benefits of the scheme to the supermarket are primarily at the checkout, but by wrapping the scheme in something so obviously counter to the supermarket culture, they are able to appear “outside the system”.

Morrisons know, full well, that the vast majority of children and adults who get involved in the scheme will become slightly more loyal to the Morrisons brand as a result of the socially beneficial appearance of the scheme; a small minority may well decide they don’t need supermarkets and will strive to grow their own food and buy local produce, but they are the exception. Morrisons have done a great job greenwashing their brand.

Asda Go Green For Schools

As the second largest supermarket chain in the UK, and part of the largest corporation on Earth, Asda (or rather, AsdaWalmart) are well placed to move into schools. Starting as a regional store group, they opened up their market by pushing their “mumsy” appeal, exemplified by the widely recognised Asda “bottom pat” (the bottoms in question being those of mothers who had spare change in their back pockets). Once they had captured the family market, Walmart took over (literally) and turned a medioum sized chain into a corporate behemoth.

It is this corporate behemoth that is now urging schools to “Go Green”. Bear in mind that Asda’s carbon emissions for 2007 were…oh dear! I don’t seem to be able to find them anywhere on the internet. In fact I spent over 20 minutes on the phone talking to the press office, the customer service office (in South Africa, bizarrely) and head office, and no one could tell me how much carbon Asda release. This is the single most important measure of environmental performance and it’s missing.

Here’s the entire set of phone calls for you to enjoy >>> Asda Can’t Tell Me Their Carbon Emissions

Looking at the Go Green For Schools website, it’s immediately clear that there is very little on offer. The scheme ran during the first half of 2008, and during that time teachers could download worksheets about various aspects of the environment (I can’t find any on the site) and also — and here’s the clincher — collect vouchers to save up for “eco-equipment”. The environmental scope of the scheme is limited to Reduce-Reuse-Recycle (which seems to skip the most important “reduce” bit entirely), plastic bags and packaging. The “eco-equipment” is pretty limited, and includes a set of 6 “Go Green For Schools” branded posters for “only” 300 vouchers.

Now here’s the clever bit: Asda don’t ask you to spend money for vouchers, they give you one every time you don’t ask for a carrier bag and use one of your own instead. This is another bit of classic greenwash: as I reported a while ago, plastic bags are just a bit of eco fluff that distract from the real environmental problems companies cause. But because people think they are being environmentally friendly, then they associate the scheme with genuine social concern — that all important feel-good factor that encourages loyalty. And you can only get a voucher if you have a bag’s worth of goods; to get three vouchers you have to buy three bag’s worth of goods.

It seems that schools have fallen for this scheme lock, stock and barrel:

“Many many thanks, what a wonderful supermarket you are! What a fantastic surprise we had, when we received all the lovely goodies from you.”
Dawn Sparrows
Pound Park Nursery & Early Years Centre, Charlton, London

“I am writing with a huge THANK YOU! We received your kind donation this morning of numerous items and we are absolutely delighted. The children are excited and enthused and eager to set up the mini green houses and can crushers…..! We really do appreciate the contribution to our school and the Eco Club. You have got our club off the ground! Thank you once again.”
Lucy Garside
Woodley Primary School, Stockport

“Thank you so much for the environmental prizes. We really work hard here to help our children find out more about the environment and how to look after it. The kits you sent will really help us do this.”
Lynne Cannon – Head Teacher
Saxon Wood, Hants

So are Asda greenwashing? Well, considering they do not publish any useful environmental information publically, they are (even more than Morrisons) a massive importer and retailer of consumer goods and exotic produce, and they are part of the largest global corporation in history: yes, that’s Asda Greenwashing at its best.

Next time I will explain who the real winners and losers are in the supermarket voucher schemes. even after what I have said, you might well be pretty shocked at the results.

Posted in Corporate Hypocrisy, Promotions, Sponsorship | 1 Comment »

School Supermarket Vouchers Special: Part 1 – How They Work

Posted by keith on 13th October 2008

School Supermarket Voucher Scheme Logos

There is no fine line between commercial activity at schools and proper education, assuming you understand that education doesn’t mean preparing a child to be a valuable consumer. On the other hand, if you consider schools to simply be conduits into the spending habits of children and their parents then the efforts of supermarkets in the UK and Ireland (and, undoubtedly many other countries) make perfect sense.

This week, The Unsuitablog is concentrating on a particular phenomenon which is growing ever more insidious: the School Supermarket Voucher Scheme. Even if you haven’t directly encountered one, you will probably know how they work: shopper buys goods from supermarket; shopper is given some vouchers in return for their custom; children of shoppers take vouchers into school; school collects vouchers and exchanges them for items that are of use to the school.

Simple. So what would explain the different attitudes being exhibited by the following three quotes:

Tesco announced today that it is creating a brand new voucher collection scheme that will offer schools and clubs a huge range of exciting products to collect for.

By merging its two highly successful voucher schemes into one bumper catalogue, the supermarket will offer schools and clubs much greater choice as well as the freedom to decide where their priorities are.

Lucy Neville-Rolfe, Corporate and Legal Affairs Director said:

“Over the last 17 years millions of children up and down the country have collected Tesco vouchers for their schools. We wanted to build on this success by extending our support into others areas of the curriculum, such as health and art. Our enhanced voucher collection scheme will make it easier for schools and clubs to benefit from our programme, and we expect it will prove to be our most popular yet.”


During the summer term, parents and friends of the school sent in their ‘Tesco Computers for Schools’ vouchers and parent helpers in the library spent many a happy hour counting them – thank you.

This year we collected 17,053 vouchers, which were added to the 15,104 ‘banked’ last year. This gave us a total of 32,157 vouchers to spend.

We recently took delivery of a brand new Apple iMac costing 26,500 vouchers – leaving 5,657 banked for next year.

Many thanks to all who sent these vouchers into the school. As you can see, they have been converted into a really useful piece of computer equipment, which will benefit all of the students here.


A Sligo school is among the first in the country to formally oppose what it calls ‘covert and exploitative’ activities by major companies seeking to advertise their products to young children.

The Sligo School Project has outlawed activities such as high profile token collection schemes operated by big supermarkets, as well as commercial presentations and the use of sponsored curriculum material, as part of a formal policy on commercial free education.

The school’s co-ordinator for commercial free education, Ms. Carmel Morley told THE SLIGO CHAMPION that the school decided to take a stand in response to the growing number of commercial schemes aimed at marketing to pupils and their families through the schools.

She maintained that offering primary school children advertising in the guise of education was ‘unethical and exploitative’.


That last one was rather at odds with the other two, but before you decide whether these schemes are “unethical and exploitative”, it’s worth just explaining some of the techniques used by the supermarkets to ensure the success of these schemes.

The Techniques

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but I have broken them down into four main areas:

1. In-school promotion

The companies operating the schemes provide large amounts of promotional materials for the schools that have registered with them: these include headed paper which which to write introductory letters to parents; branded collection boxes for classrooms and common areas; posters and large banners to attach to internal and external walls, school boundary fences and other visible areas; curriculum resources including resource packs, information sheets and other information related to the scheme. Not forgetting the branding of the vouchers themselves, which always contain a supermarket logo.

2. Community Emphasis

The schemes always operate under the auspices of “community”: this may be by providing the schools with equipment such a play equipment, computers or books; by having a social or environmental angle on the scheme; or by implying that the company are “bringing together” different parts of the community to ensure the success of the scheme. This is reinforced by the schools using the branded letters and other materials to encourage parents and children to take part in the schemes for the benefit of the school. Schools are encouraged to use the local press to promote their participation in schemes to the wider public.

3. Bonus Vouchers

In many cases, vouchers are handed out for a set value of purchases or (in one case) for a set number of shopping bags, but this can be augmented if the shopper buys certain products or a certain number of a particular product, such as buying 3 bottles of drink and receiving more than the individual voucher value of the product. Bonus vouchers are almost always attached to high profit goods, or bulk purchases greater than the shopper would normally buy.

4. Limited Timespan

It is very rare for a scheme to operate over a long period of time. Normally the collection period is no more than a single term (semester), which compresses the activity into a short period. This ensures that schools do not become complacent or lose enthusiasm, and also allows for annual (or more frequent) scheme episodes, which always have a slightly different branding from the previous episode.

In the next article, I will demonstrate how the operators of such schemes are using classic greenwashing techniques to get their “community” message across and improve their overall image.

Posted in Adverts, Corporate Hypocrisy, Promotions, Public Sector Hypocrisy | 4 Comments »

Formula 1 Goes Green: Bans Itself

Posted by keith on 9th October 2008

Green Tyres?

I had no idea that such an incredible greenwash was going on behind my back until alerted by F1Fanatic to the astonishing tale of the Bridgestone “Green” Tyre.

The people who read the F1Fanatic website have few allusions that Formula 1 racing can ever be green, as shown by the comments under the linked article…unlike Bridgestone, who have really gone to town over their big fat tyres with green stripes:

Formula One will show its support for the FIA’s Make Cars Green campaign by running on specially prepared green-grooved tyres at the Japanese Grand Prix.

Bridgestone, the global partner for the FIA’s campaign, launched the Make Cars Green tyre at a ceremony in Tokyo today, with support from Formula One teams McLaren-Mercedes and Ferrari, as well as their drivers Lewis Hamilton, Heikki Kovalainen, Felipe Massa and Kimi Räikkönen.

The initiative demonstrates that Formula One’s teams and partners are backing the Make Cars Green campaign’s goal to reduce the impact of motoring on the environment.

The connections between greener motoring and Formula One will be further strengthened next year with the introduction of energy regenerating hybrid devices, one of a number of initiatives in the sport that will be increasingly relevant to the car industry and help accelerate the use of fuel-efficient technology on public roads.

So, if I’m right about this, the people responsible for hurling cars around a track at 200 miles per hour, moving their entire engineering entourage across the globe multiple times, along with the flight-happy petrolheads who slavishly follow their every move, actually think we will believe the FIA (the world motor racing governing body) care about the environment!

The Make Cars Green (sic) website is a treasure chest of greenwashing gloop.

Make Cars Green brings together all aspects of the FIA’s work from encouraging consumers to go green, to representing our members’ ecological concerns towards government and manufacturers, and the introduction of environmental initiatives into motor sport.

Make Cars Green aims to encourage radical rethink in the way cars are considered in society by being at the forefront of encouraging considerate and ecologically sound mobility.

That’s about twelve contradictions in one short statement, and a huge own goal (apologies for mixing my sprting metaphors) for the FIA, because the only way to have “considerate and ecologically sound mobility” is to remove all the engines. Seriously. Coaches and trains are better than cars, trucks and planes, but all of them use fuel, and all of them perpetuate the myth that it is necessary to travel long distances at speed — only in a civilized world is this necessary.

Take a look at this video, for a quick reality check…

And bye, bye, motor sport (that is, if it wants to be green :-D )

Posted in Astroturfs, Corporate Hypocrisy, Promotions | 4 Comments »

Shell: Beautifully Poetic Greenwashing

Posted by keith on 7th October 2008

An example of how the big guys work their art, with help from musician Mark Knopfler, and actor John Hannah (you should both be ashamed):

This advert was aired in 2004 in the USA, but continued for another 2 years in the UK: people really believed that Shell wanted to make things better; people really believed that we could get all our energy from solar and wood…

…well, yes, we can actually — it’s just that we would have reduce our energy usage by 90% in the industrial consumer culture to even get close to this target — which Shell conveniently forget to mention. That would explain why the very same year they were paying for this advert to be shown around the world, they started planning the largest oil sands extraction project on Earth!

Don’t be fooled: THEY LIE.

Posted in Adverts, Corporate Hypocrisy | 1 Comment »