The Unsuitablog

Exposing Ethical Hypocrites Everywhere!

Archive for December, 2008

One Year Of The Unsuitablog

Posted by keith on 31st December 2008

Earth Dawn

Take a look at the category I’ve put this under: it’s not “Good News” but simply “Unsuitablog News”. It might not seem like a big thing, but to most environmental organisations and campaigns a year of operation would be heralded as an achievement — well, if you count writing lots of words in the Blogosphere an achievement then I can give myself a big pat on the back, but to be brutally honest I can only honestly say The Unsuitablog has achieved something if there is an absolute improvement in the condition of the planet’s natural systems directly resulting from it’s activity.

How many campaigns can say that?

(Ans: Probably none)

To quote a recent Bulletin produced by Green Seniors:

It can be very frustrating at times knowing whether the work you do is having an impact. Try as we might, there are very few ways to know for sure whether Green Seniors is influencing people to make a change in their lives. Typing in “Green Seniors” in Google is one way, but people are unlikely to mention us as their inspiration (as nice as that would be), and even less likely to post the fact online. So we plug on, taking comfort from the kind e-mails, mentions in magazines and newsletters (another 2 or 3 this month), and the general way that the environment message is at least getting across – if not actually having a big positive impact as yet.

So why do I bother working my socks off at this, if at the end of a year I’m going to beat myself up about it?

Simply because, like Green Seniors, it’s an important — if very small — part of the combined effort required to change humanity’s priorities from economy to ecology; from commerce to connection; from suicide to survival. Greenwashing exists, primarily, to make people think something that is fundamentally destructive is actually benign: greenwashing is denial of reality; it is out and out lying in order that the system can continue its pursuit of mindless destruction. If you greenwash then you are playing by the rules of the Culture of Maximum Harm.

If The Unsuitablog even has a small chance of — to quote an earlier article — “making greenwashing as socially unacceptable as taking hard drugs in front of your grandmother”, then it will continue in its attempts to screw up the toxic messages of the corporate, political and even the well meaning, unwitting hypocrites.

For as long as it takes for things to change.

Posted in Unsuitablog News | No Comments »

Will You Ever Believe A Car Advertisement Again?

Posted by keith on 29th December 2008

No comment needed.

Posted in Spoofs | No Comments »

Christmas Jeer

Posted by keith on 23rd December 2008

Christmas Shopping Consumption

I won’t be posting for a while because of Christmas; we have people to see, fun to have and just a few presents to give – the vast majority of them either second hand or handmade, because I really can’t bear to buy new stuff any more – when you have been writing about hypocrites for so long it becomes almost a physical impossibility to be one yourself.

It wasn’t always that way, and I am not ashamed to say that I was once a consumer; I used to do Christmas shopping with relish, and take great pleasure in wrapping and stacking all sorts of fancy new stuff under the tree, and far beyond it. It took the cathartic experience of writing an article called “The Problem With…Christmas” a couple of years ago to shake me out of the consumer mindset and realise that the “need” to shop, especially in November and December, was simply a system-led exercise in corporate brainwashing, eagerly followed by the hive mind of the Behemoth Consumer. Take a look at the illustration on Hobbes seminal (but horribly flawed) work “Leviathan”, and imagine the body politik constructed of television sets, electronic games, perfume, DVDs and kitchen gadgets and you have a fairly good impression of our new “consumer politik”.

The Emma Maersk – a 45,000 tonne container ship from China, renamed the “SS Santa” in honour of its mission – arrived in the UK on 4 November 2006, loaded with thousands of shipping containers full of toys, books and computers. A Chinese Online News service managed to obtain an oddly wistful quote from an English bystander : “It’s like a dream to see such a mountain-like ship floating on the sea, and all the more incredible to learn that the ship is bringing Europeans with Christmas made mainly in China,” which sounded more like a quotation from a Chinese Government press release. 3,000 of these containers were unloaded and the toys, books and computers distributed to warehouses and then sent out on their next leg to fill the shelves of Toys ‘?’ Us, Tesco and the mysterious back rooms of Argos. On Christmas Day 2006, carefully wrapped packages were hurriedly opened by children, teenagers and parents, their paper discarded, and the keys to temporary enjoyment revealed in all their glory.

This year I am receiving emails, urging me to advertise and to buy “eco gifts”, as though somehow our consumer frenzy can be sublimated into a kinder, more caring form of consumption — as though it makes any difference; as though, somehow, by buying “green” we become better people, while still being the rabid consumers we are continually urged to be. These people are not trying to save the planet, they are just trying to make you feel better, while the consumer machine keeps grinding away, desperate that no amount of recession, resource depletion or ecological destruction will stop it.

Dear Keith,

The holiday season is too often characterized by overconsumption and waste, rather than the spirit of giving. From conception, SpaRitual has been committed to creating eco-friendly products crafted to raise environmental awareness and cater to the conscious consumer. “As a brand, we are passionate about safeguarding the environment, reducing waste and limiting the use of non-renewable resources,” says Shel Pink, creator of the SpaRitual brand.

Therefore it is only fitting that the eco-luxury brand would gift its customers with a donation to Trees for the Future, which benefits people living on threatened lands.

With each purchase of SpaRitual products, consumers are making a choice that directly and positively benefits the planet,” Pink says. “By treating ourselves with consciousness, compassion and caring, I realized that the creation of this brand could be a vehicle for extending a larger sense of caring for each other, for our communities and for the world.

Happy Holidays from the SpaRitual Team

What can you say, given all you know about the consumer machine except:

If you’re so bothered by overconsumption at Christmas why…

a) are you sending this email advertising your products at Christmas

b) are you selling this pointless stuff that no one needs at all?

Pure hypocrisy. You don’t lose the consumption yoke by trying to make your company seem ethical – you are selling product, end of.

Keith

Have a wonderful Christmas, Yule, or whatever festival you may be celebrating at this time — and please remember, it’s not what you buy, it’s what you do that matters.

Posted in Advice, Corporate Hypocrisy, Promotions | 2 Comments »

Green Luxury Exclusive Eco Sustainable Resort Destination Greenwash

Posted by keith on 19th December 2008

Our Little Secret

You have to feel sorry…no, scrap that…Why should we feel sorry for the desperate little people thinking up their desperate little promotions in their desperate little offices for desperate companies in order to sell desperate little lives that other desperate little people will be stupid enough to want to live.

So much for the world of marketing, which in sheer desperation is increasingly turning to bucketloads of “eco descriptors” (that’s greenwashing adjectives and adverbs) to try and convince us that we don’t have to change because they are doing the changing for us…

“Forget old luxury, welcome green luxury!” said Joel Cere, CEO of [deleted] Resorts.” [deleted] Resorts is offering eco-aware urban escapees the luxury of private island home ownership with the launch of a truly guilt-free investment: The [deleted resort], Palawan.” “In a world of homogenous, over-developed concrete destinations, disinterested developers, fake themes and over-priced mini-bars, token green gestures and disenfranchised communities, [still deleted] Resorts provide an authentic experience for the grown-up backpacker, a guilt-free option for the traveler with conscience, a breath of fresh tropical air for sophisticated urban escapees.”
[You just repeated yourself]

Designed exclusively for [stop it!] Resorts by former film art director, Antonio Calvo (“Love Actually,” “Alexander”, “Pride & Prejudice”.) 60 off-plan private residences await discriminating investors, who want to own a truly chic eco-home with a conscience and investment-grade security with an option to buy, re-sell or rent.

[utterly deleted] Resorts operates a “greenprint” for operations and, with development partners [anonymous] Investments and [null] Management
[Ed. actually all the same company], benefit from sustainable construction methods employed, ethical management practice observed, and ecologically responsible operations as standard. That means 100% renewable energy, and for the first time in the hospitality industry, 100% of the resort’s net operating profits will be used to support local environmental and social programs. You can now own a truly chic eco-home with a conscience and investment-grade security.

I think my highlighter just ran out! Certainly my patience has run out, though I have no doubt that a number of gullible light-green blogs will be merrily posting this “news” because they are desperate for something positive, and have no qualms about giving a lovely green company a bit of free advertising.

Yes, except…

1) The resort is designed as an investment for very rich people who want to sink their money into a second (or third) home in an island paradise, except for those who want to make lots of cash from rich globetrotters in their gap-years who wouldn’t understand the word “connection” if it didn’t have a cellphone logo attached to it.

2) The much-vaunted “100% of the resort’s net operating profits” going to social projects, is after the developers have sold the units for big money, safely (well, hopefully not) putting it away in their expanding bank acounts. The “operating” remainder will be a pittance.

3) Everyone who stays there will have flown, in most cases long-haul, making a complete mockery of the “eco” tags. While the solar panels and mini-wind turbines keep the margueritas cool, the traveller will be spewing out tons of carbon dioxide on their way to and from their “eco-home”. Offset that, you bastards!

[That's a joke, you can't offset flights, obviously]

4) With all this greenwashing comes the classic guilt-shedding that only truly rich people can afford…

“We are now accepting interested buyers for our guilt-free residences in South East Asia”

…but they are guilty, truly guilty of hypocrisy.

My idea of luxury is lying under a tree in the sun with a book as the breeze caresses my back and the birdsong tumbles down upon me from the branches above…but if you are selling a dream there can be no “guilt-free” luxury, they are morally and practically inconsistent: “luxury” in civilized terms means money; “luxury” in civilized terms, means environmental harm. If you have to fly half way round the world to achieve your “simple” pleasures, you are morally bankrupt, my friend.

Posted in Corporate Hypocrisy, Promotions | No Comments »

Ed Miliband Is Spouting Rubbish – Government Rubbish

Posted by keith on 17th December 2008

Ed Milliband Bollocks

Sometimes you don’t have to add anything to the words of a politician to show how desperately, ludicrously out of touch they are with the real world: the world that is dying as a result of the duplicity and greenwash they have been spouting ever since governments first claimed they cared a jot about the planet.

“Climate change is fundamentally important, and we have to do it in a way that is consistent with economic growth.”

(Listen to: Ed Miliband at Poznan – BBC News, Sun 13 December 2008)

Yes, Mr Ed, you’ve certainly been doing that. What a proud record the UK government have: record economic growth, record climate change.

Not so much a hypocrite as a foolish puppet…

Posted in Government Policies, Political Hypocrisy | No Comments »

Shell: Difficult Oil. Hard Sell.

Posted by keith on 15th December 2008

Shell Oil At any Cost

Wow! Now here’s a challenge: you are the head of a huge oil company in a world of rising temperatures, falling profits and peak oil, and somehow you have to keep three entirely different and contrary balls in the air at the same time:

1) Your company exists to make profit; if you don’t make a profit then your shareholders will go elsewhere, your company will fail and you will be out of a job, as well as a great deal of once valuable share options – you have to be profitable;

2) The lifeblood of your industry – oil – is running out, not just a bit, but really running out, as demand increases, reserves peter out and new industrial powerful nations try to buy what is left from your rivals – you have to find oil;

3) The climate is changing and you are partly responsible, in fact you and your cohorts in the oil industry are most definitely responsible for a sizeable chunk of both the heating of the Earth and its avoidable destruction; your reputation is getting dirtier by the hour – you need to look green

Tough, isn’t it? The temptation is to say, “Oh, forget it, it’s only money, we can do things another way!” But you won’t because there is no such thing as only money: money is everything, it is what makes you what you are, it defines your place in civilization and no crap about the environment or peak oil is going to stop that!

The great thing is, there is some oil left, but it’s damn hard to get to, and horrifically dirty – easily as dirty as coal. It’s called Oil Sands, or Tar Sands (far more accurate). Uh-oh! We seem to have made a bit of a mess with our initial foray into this venture – we need a nice little euphemism to change the public’s perception…

Difficult Oil.

That sounds nicer – it’s amost as though the public need to help us with our problem; like we need some sympathy with our plight – gosh, this “Difficult Oil” is really important, can we rely on your support to get it out of the ground?

A nice video, that’s the ticket:

Click to open in new window…

[Scene: Shell Man and Journalist driving through Indonesian (?) paddy field in 4 wheel drive]

Shell Man: “You know, a century ago this whole area was just a swamp. In those days it would have taken oil workers weeks just to do this journey.”

Journalist: “Nothing stands in the way of progress, right?”

SM: (threateningly) “Just like facts don’t stand in the way of a good story.”

SM: “We all know easily accessible oil is a thing of the past. The challenge now is to get those reserves we know about and yet haven’t been able to reach. Reserves that would otherwise just go to waste.”

(cut to shot of snake fleeing path of vehicle)

(The video then goes through a convoluted story of Shell Man and his estranged son (a nice domestic touch) leading to the discovery of bendy pipes to drill oil.)

Nice!

And we all love Shell for making sure we have oil for another generation. What a pity they don’t mention the millions of people and the countless species that will be killed in their insatiable thirst for oil and money; the irreversible global climatic change that will result from their profit greed; the twisted mess of a planet that we will end up with if Shell are allowed to carry on lying to us.

Don’t believe the bullshit: Shell are only doing it for the money!

Posted in Adverts, Company Policies, Corporate Hypocrisy | 1 Comment »

How To Expose Greenwash

Posted by keith on 12th December 2008

Billboard Subvertising EasyJet

Exposure is what Greenwashers fear most of all — serious exposure can destroy a campaign; it can destroy a reputation; it can destroy a brand; it can destroy a government. It has happened before and it will happen again.

Exposure is the nexus between ignorance and awareness.

On this short journey we have learnt to spot greenwash from a mile away – recognising the tell-tale smirk in the eyes of the publicist and the lies between the lines written in your morning paper. You can spot greenwash.

We have also learnt how to investigate the murky recesses of the greenwasher’s mind and dig out the dirt that the corporate lobbyist or the public servant wants to keep hidden away. You can find out their secrets.

Now it is time for the final stage in our journey: Exposing The Greenwashers.

Doing It Right

I’m assuming you have all the information you need to expose the greenwasher, and just want to get it out there. Regardless of whether you do the exposing yourself, or rely on some other willing (or unwilling ;-) ) party to do the exposure for you, there are four factors that will determine the success of your efforts — four factors, that you have control over.

Timing

Timing can be pretty complicated to get right, especially when you are not executing the exposure yourself, but a good rule of thumb is: The quicker the better. As an example of how important this can be; when I found out about the Triangle Of Peace Foundation, I found, to my delight, that they had foolishly neglected to use that phrase anywhere on the Internet, so by investigating and exposing the issues online, and also republishing the article to a few places, I was able to ensure that anyone who looked for information as a result of the newspaper advertisment, would come across my negative article straight away.

Sometimes you need time to investigate properly, though, but that may not be a problem if you happen to have received an embargoed press release: simply carry out the exposure before the embargo date! It’s also useful to take advantage of a topical item, such as the annual financial results of a company, to inject a frisson into the proceedings; or perhaps you might want to do something under cover of night (for safety), or at a weekend to ensure your exposure is visible when business opens on Monday morning. However you time it, though, do it while the information is fresh.

Medium

You probably can’t afford to buy a minute of peak advertising time on a network TV channel in order to place your alternative message — in fact, the chances of a media cartel ever allowing such a message is slim to none (and slim just left town) so lack of funds isn’t necessarily an issue; it’s finding a medium that complements both the message you are sending, and also the greenwash that is being purveyed. Obviously web sites are one place to do things, but without an audience you’re going to struggle to get your message out. But there are ways to use a medium to best effect — for instance:

- Phoning up a radio station to make an on topic point, then changing the subject halfway through to do your exposure
- Subvertising a billboard or other useful surface close to (or in) a premises belonging to the target
- Inserting information inside magazines and newspapers at news stands / newsagents
- Sending fake letters “from” the organization, or calling up (remember the rules about secrecy) “on their behalf” to give an alternate take on their greenwashing to a journalist or TV station

The medium is not the message, you just need to use your imagination to use the medium well.

Simplicity

Your target audience are probably not going to be in the same headspace as you, in terms of understanding why you are doing the exposure in the first place. Subtlety may be fine for media-savvy showoffs, but clever has to be very clever indeed if the message is to work. The best strategy is just keep it simple. If an oil company are lying about their emissions, say that they are lying about their emissions; if a politician has been a hypocrite, expose the hypocrisy in simple language; if an environmental charity are getting too close to a corporation for comfort, say how uncomfortable this is, and say it loud and often enough to make sure your message gets across.

Simple language; minimum words; clear graphics: maximum understanding.

Scale

You are only capable of doing so much, so don’t beat yourself up about not being able to save the world on your own: you can’t. Most greenwashing is carried out by organizations with lots of money, lots of contacts and the means to get their lies across to a huge audience; but that doesn’t have to matter, so long as you understand the target audience. Let’s face it, and here is a BIG CAVEAT: the vast majority of people are not that interested in whether a company is green or not; neither are they that interested in changing their views once they have been set. Greenwash is aimed at those bodies and individuals who are interested, so regardless of whether BP spend millions of Euros telling the world they are the kings of renewable energy, you only need to target those people likely to have been stirred by this message.

It makes things seem a lot easier, doesn’t it.

Let’s say a big press release goes out saying how Ford are reducing their car plant emissions (while still producing huge SUVs and pickups). Do a search for the text of the release, and you can find out who has reported their lies – you might find that by approaching these very same people, you can embarrass them into retracting, or at least amending their reports; or you might just want to target the fool who blindly pasted the lies into their report, and expose them. It’s an idea, at least. What I am saying is that you don’t need to operate at the scale of the greenwasher if you are clever enough; a targeted exposure of a very embarrassing fact can be just as effective.

Going Further

It’s clear from this article that there are a host of different ways to expose greenwashers; I have only scratched the surface, and you can probably think of lots more. If you feel you’re not able to do as much as you want on your own, then perhaps you need to join a network of anti-greenwashers: Earth First! are a good port of call; or you could send out a request via Indymedia; and there is now a Facebook group which might be able to help you out…

Remember, also, that exposing greenwash is an effective form of Sabotage, and when you join the ranks of the saboteurs there is a whole world of change that you can be creating!

Posted in Advice, Revenge, Sabotage, Subvertising | No Comments »

Smock Paper: Eco Nonsense From Across The World

Posted by keith on 9th December 2008

smockpaper.jpg

A little tardy with this one: a reader alerted me to an article on Treehugger back in August, which straight away gained some splendidly cynical comments about greenwashing. The article in question is essentially an advert for a luxury paper by a company called Smockpaper:

Smock Paper is the first company in the US to offer “printing on luxury bamboo paper.” For those of you hosting a party, getting married or just looking for something different to write home to mom on, Smock Paper offers an alternative paper made on fast-growing and pesticide free bamboo. Smock offers a product that harks back to an earlier era when artisans took care, time and attention to detail to make a good product. While the paper is made in a european mill, the paper is printed and pressed in their workshop in Syracuse, NY and this is where the magic happens.

Now, producing a fancy wedding invitation is not quite in the realms of the supernatural, so I would first suggest that the term “magic” is a little excessive; what is even more excessive is the suggestion that this paper is “green”. The little picture above, crafted to “magically” bring out the texture of a bamboo plantation overlain by a map of the world has three red dots: those are the stopping off points for this product which makes its way across the world from bamboo plantation in Thailand, paper mill in Europe (no details of country, except the mill is “500 years old”, because that makes all the difference — see http://smockpaper.com/sustain/bamboo/) and printing press in New York — a trip of at least 14,000 miles!

This is not green.

The response given by the parent company, Boxcar Press, tries to justify the extravagence by talking about various efforts such as envrionmental donations (1% of earnings, wow!) and organic vegetables for staff, but the real give away is this statement:

The nature of our paper requires us to transport our product around the globe, but we primarily use sea freight (low carbon emissions per pound), and we are doing whatever we can to reduce our energy usage and our carbon emissions from our wind-powered print shop.”

So, you are claiming your product is environmentally friendly, yet because it is “environmentally friendly” you have to transport it around the world, making a complete mockery of your claims!

I think I’ll stick to recycled paper, and not get too excited about having luxury wedding invitations, if that’s all right with you.

Posted in Adverts, Corporate Hypocrisy, Should Know Better | No Comments »

Climate Counts On Your Stupidity

Posted by keith on 5th December 2008

Climate Counts

My Eco Spam of the week comes from the “non profit” (more of that later) organization, Climate Counts, who have created a scoring system for companies, ostensibly to get them to buck up their ideas…

From: Ria Knapp
To: news@unsuitablog.com
Sent: Tuesday, December 02, 2008 4:04 PM
Subject: News from Climate Counts

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
New Widget Simplifies Consumer Action to Fight Global Warming
Climate Counts’ Widget gives Company Scores a permanent home on blogs, profiles, and desktops

November 2008
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Contact: Ria Knapp

With the end of the presidential election season, our votes are now counted. But when it comes to fighting the global climate crisis, the opportunity to cast your ballot as a consumer remains wide open. The debut of Climate Counts new desktop widget enables people to keep their election season energy – by voting with their dollars.

Just as the importance of addressing climate change and achieving energy independence garnered attention during this year’s presidential debates, the Climate Counts team is working to bring the same attention to the role that consumers can play in motivating the biggest companies in the world to offer their own climate responsibility and leadership. The new Climate Counts Widget gives individuals access to how companies rank on climate and how they compare to other companies in their industry sector. Widgets are customized applications that you can download and embed on your computer or web page.

“People vote based on how closely a candidate mirrors their values,” said Climate Counts project director Wood Turner. “People should bring that same sense of purpose to how they spend their money. The companies they support should also be a reflection of their beliefs and concerns about issues like global warming.”

By typing a company name or brand into the Climate Counts widget, you receive an output message with that company’s climate score from 0 to 100 and which Climate Counts scoring tier – stuck, starting, or striding – that company falls into. The higher the score, the greater a company’s commitment to fighting climate change.

“The widget helps people understand quickly how they can fight climate change with the choices they make every day when they shop,” Turner said. “If the widget is on your desktop, your blog or personal page – you have constant and immediate access to Climate Counts company scores.”

Climate Counts is a non-profit collaborative effort to bring consumers and business together to tackle global climate change. The organization launched its first climate scores of companies in June 2007 and updates scores annually. Climate Counts evaluates companies in four key areas – whether they are measuring their climate footprint; whether they are working to reduce that footprint; whether they are supporting (or blocking) progressive climate policy; and if they are being open and transparency about their climate actions with consumers.

In addition to helping consumers make climate-conscious purchases, the ClimateCounts.org website gives consumers the opportunity to “raise their voices” by e-mailing companies directly to either show their support for companies that are striding or petition lower-scoring companies to improve their climate protection efforts.

The widget can be downloaded directly off the ClimateCount.org website at www.climatecounts.org/widget.

For Release: Dec. 2, 2008

Contact Information
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Ria Knapp
PO Box 4844
Manchester, NH 03108
Phone: 603.216.3788
rknapp@climatecounts.org
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Before looking at the “widget”, I took a look at their website…I must say I wasn’t entirely surprised by what I found, but this was still hypocrisy of the highest order. Here’s my response to Ria:

Dear Ria

This is a joke, yes?

I’ve just looked at the page on Banking (http://www.climatecounts.org/scorecard_sectors.php?id=27) and see that one of the most destructive banks in the world is number 1! Oh, I know why – it’s because the WWF are on your advisory board, and just happen to get lots of money from HSBC! (http://thesietch.org/mysietch/keith/2008/01/15/wwf-buy-yourself-a-new-corporate-image-part-1/). Where is the Co-operative Bank or Triodos, both of whom have environmental policies that they actually act on rather than pretend to be acting on?

And what about the airlines? Surely NO airline should even be in the yellow, given that their entire business depends on the completely unsustainable and excessive production of greenhouse gases. If they fly then they pollute – that’s it. They can never be good.

And then you have Electronics (http://www.climatecounts.org/scorecard_sectors.php?id=13), the companies scored, including your “greens”, all actively push the mindless consumption of consumer goods that no one needs – but they continue to push them because their raison d’etre is to make a profit, and that means obsolescence and more sales, and more resource consumption, and more toxic pollution, and more greenhouse gases.

I don’t expect you to take this seriously, because you don’t appear to take environmental action seriously. Your funding comes from Stoneyfield Farm, who made $20 million in profit in 2007, raking in 90% of that for their shareholders; shareholders who would say goodbye if they didn’t see a healthy return on their investment. The problem is that profit equals economic growth, equals an increase in environmental damage – how can you be objective when your funding depends upon a company making a profit? (and, BTW, Gary Hirshberg has done a wonderful greenwashing job, pretending that it is possible – hmm, how much oil do his yogurt cartons use in a year; how much carbon dioxide does it take to distribute his products around the world; how much methane do his cows produce?)

When you decide to show companies up for what they really are, then let me know – but for now you are going to become the subject of the next article on The Unsuitablog, which is read by thousands of keen anti-greenwashers.

Regards

Keith Farnish
www.unsuitablog.com
www.theearthblog.org

Intentional hypocrisy or just stupidity? I’m not sure, and I can’t pass judgement until I get a response — which has not arrived after 3 days — but I do know for sure that there are an awful lot of environmentally pathological corporations getting an incredibly easy ride out of the laughably lenient scoring system that Climate counts have in place.

Corporations greenwash enough without others helping them do it: change it or get rid of it.

Posted in Corporate Hypocrisy, NGO Hypocrisy, Should Know Better | 1 Comment »

How To Investigate Greenwash

Posted by keith on 1st December 2008

pc_highlight.jpg

Greenwashers don’t want to be exposed; exposure is dangerous because they no longer control the message, and if they cannot control the message then they cannot control what people think and do. My job, as the author of The Unsuitablog is to wrest control of the message from the greenwashers, and free us from the lies that are relentlessly paraded before us. In the light of truth, we are free to make our own minds up, rather than being made to see these purveyors of harm in the way they would like us to see them.

I want you to be able to do this as well: not only recognising the hypocrisy and the greenwash*, but taking part in exposing the liars for yourself. It’s not always easy, but with a bit of help we can really take them on.

Critical to the act of Exposure, however you do it, is Investigation. Without investigation you have little or nothing to back up any claims you make, nor will you be sure of the accuracy of the information you present. Investigation is also critical because it can often lead to the discovery of far worse things than you may have initially expected, giving your effort far more justification, and potentially preventing extremely destructive activities. Feel free to — like I sometimes do — have a cheap shot at your Target, but if you want to do something really worthwhile, you need to investigate.

The Target

You can take two approaches to deciding on your target: there is the ad hoc approach, which involves identifying greenwash as it happens, regardless of the source, in order to pick off the most vulnerable targets; there is also the targeted approach, based on a set number of targets that most interest you — this may be because you have a personal grudge against a company, politician etc., are interested in a particular area of study, or because the target is simply very worthwhile — such as a major polluter.

Once you have identified your Target, you need to check that they are greenwashing. Your instincts are very valuable, as is the nature of the Target, in telling you quickly what is up. However, if you are going to investigate further, you need to be pretty sure that the Target is, indeed, greenwashing — using this guide will be of great help in most cases.

Before you embark on the investigation, you should also have some understanding of the nature of the Target’s operations: if it is a company, public body, charity, religion or other organisation, you need to know how they operate both within their “marketplace” and internally; if an individual, then you need to know a bit about their history and their personal life. Having prior experience in the area in which they operate is extremely valuable, and will always give you a head start.

Casing The Joint

Investigating greenwash is akin to carrying out a crime, in that you are trying to do something that runs counter to the desires of the Target. Anyone with experience of carrying out nefarious activities (whether strictly legal or not) will already have a fair grounding in the activity known as “scoping” (i.e. the research process), but if you have experience in preventing such activities (e.g. as a PR professional, or a security expert) this can be equally valuable, and in some cases moreso. Even if you don’t have personal experience, though, it doesn’t rule out doing the dirty on the greenwasher: someone with sufficient nous and a set of tools (see later) will be able to get along fine, and with practice become highly adept.

The dictum “know your enemy” provides an excellent guiding principle here, and underlines the first rule of investigation, namely that you should never go into the role unprepared.

Scoping can be a long and highly drawn out process, and the level of research you carry out depends on many factors:

- How risky the exposure is likely to be to you
- How much prior experience you have
- What level of damage you wish to inflict on the Target
- How difficult the Target is likely to be to penetrate / expose
- How much time you have

I cannot tell you how much research to do and precisely what to look for — remember, it’s your investigation — but the more you do, the better your chances of success. However, if you need to get something out into the open very quickly, then you may be restricted in how much you can do, in which case try and minimise the risk to yourself.

(For more information about risk levels, read the section on Sabotaging in A Matter Of Scale.)

The Internet is your friend in the scoping process: not only can it provide you with official information about the organisation or person you are targeting, it can also give details about the best people to contact, lots of background information from third party sources (Sourcewatch being a particular favourite of mine) and may even be able to put you in touch with other people trying to achieve the same aims. Beware, though: this kind of work is often best carried out alone, and you should only reveal your true aims to people you implicitly trust.

Spend time on the Target’s website, if there is one, to get a good feel for the way it presents itself publically — this is very important for The Sting, as you will see — and, in the case of a large company or public body don’t be afraid to call up their helpdesk or customer service team just to make innocent enquiries. One very useful exercise is “follow the links” which I describe in some detail in this article — it is surprising where a bit of lateral thinking can get you.

Make plenty of notes on paper (ensuring you shred everything afterwards), along with asking rhetorical questions along the way (e.g. will I really get the information I need from that person?) to ensure you are gathering the information you need and have enough of it. Once you are confident you have enough information to allow you to ask the right questions and/or to access whichever aspects of the Target you need to, then you are ready for The Sting.

The Sting

The Sting is the process by which you verify your suspicions and, in some cases, uncover things far worse. It is entirely possible to expose greenwash without carrying out this process — by doing so you minimise personal risk — and much of the exposure on The Unsuitablog is of this nature. Scoping information is also very useful for others who wish to go further, so on its own can be very useful. However, if you want to really rock the boat you are likely to have to get information right from the horse’s mouth.

You already know who you need to speak to, what to ask, and approximately how to probe further if the opportunity presents itself, and I am assuming that most of this communication is going to be carried out by telephone and, possibly, by e-mail. You may be using other methods, but I am not going to discuss, for instance, entering premises, hacking or interception, largely because I am not in a position to take responsibility for any repercussions. The information about Sabotaging, linked to earlier,, will help if you wish to do such things.

To carry out The Sting you need, as I have said, to have done your homework; but you also need two more key things: Tools and Techniques. These are not only beneficial, but without some of them it may be impossible to get the information you need at all, and you may also put yourself at far more risk than is necessary. The second key rule of investigation is to avoid getting caught.

Tools

If you wish to present information formally, or use it for reference later, you will need to record this information. All large organisations, as a matter of course, record incoming telephone calls and do not have to state that this recording is taking place if it is for the purpose of crime prevention: as you are investigating environmental crimes, albeit not crimes as the system would necessarily judge them, you are morally justified in doing the same. If you use internet phone software then any audio capture tool will record the conversation, but remember that you will need to mask your identification (see later). For recording telephone calls, either land or cell phone, then there are a number of devices on the market, including this Sony microphone, which can be recorded to a tool like Audacity.

If using email, make sure you keep anything sent by the Target in its original format — if you convert or copy emails, you potentially lose valuable tracking information.

Because you are communicating in a two-way manner, you must always conceal your identity to avoid comebacks. By telephone this can be carried out either by using a known privacy prefix (in the UK it is 141, check with your provider for the code) or going through the main switchboard of the organisation you are calling — switchboard transfers almost always mask the caller’s number.

Obviously you should use a pseudonym during this stage, not forgetting at any point that you are operating under an assumed name! It is best to keep the same pseudonym for a while, so you get used to being referred to by that name.

When using email, never use your primary email address or give it out, unless you are doing low risk work (you need to decide if it is worth the risk): create one or more pretend accounts, either by owning your own domain, so you can create any prefix you like, e.g. fred.smith@mydomain.com, or using Hotmail or Yahoo! Don’t forget that if you are using your normal mail client, your return address may expose your identity!

If you are using public internet or telephone access, remember that your history or call information (and even the call itself) may be stored centrally. Never go beyond the scoping process if you are at work, unless you are prepared to lose your job!

Techniques

These techniques are primarily for the purpose of getting the Target to give away more than they would like to, so it goes without saying that more experience you have, the more likely you are to extract the proverbial “golden egg”. That said, there is no reason you won’t get lucky first time. Be aware, though, some of these techniques are risky, and may damage your chance of following up should you wish to.

As I said, you need to cover your tracks, so apart from the technical means, you also need to make sure that you are in control of the communication: this means using such tactics as asking for names and numbers in order to call back later; only offering your contact details (fake ones) as a last resort and having a cache of useful excuses for conducting the conversation on your terms (“I’m using someone else’s phone” or “I don’t know where I’ll be in an hour”).

Remember when I mentioned knowing about the Target’s public presentation? One important aspect of this is knowing what their audience is: for instance, if a suspect advertisement was placed in a professional journal, then you will be best playing the part of the type of professional in question — this can be very tricky; if you see a suspect product in a supermarket, then pretend you are a customer. What this does is make the recipient of the call comfortable, so that you can ask leading questions without them becoming too supicious (remember, you are recording this). If you can really act stupid then hit the Target with a killer question they may be caught unawares and give too much away.

Another useful technique is “hitting below the belt”: basically this involves talking to employees or representatives at the lowest possible level. It is sometimes said that the people who know most about an organisation are the people who work in the post room, so why not get friendly with them (just ask to speak to the Post Room from the switchboard)? You may be lucky and find a disgruntled employee who wants to dish the dirt. There is little point in going to the top: directors and senior managers are usually trained in dealing with the media, so rarely give much away; their assistants, on the other hand, could be useful.

One final technique that sometimes yields stunning results, is using the CC function on email. This has limited applications but, say for instance you send an email (from your fake mailbox) to a senior person, while CC-ing a number of other senior people in an organisation: their training will mean that they are liable to contact each other to ensure that everyone stays “on message”. If your CC list is long enough then you can bury your own address in the middle of the list, so when they click “Reply All”, you also become the recipient of that sensitive email!

In the final article of this series I will describe different ways of Exposing greenwashers, but having read this far, I strongly suspect you are already keen to get on and do some investigation yourself. Have fun, and do some damage!


(*for this article, I use “greenwash” as a generic term for all types of environmental hypocrisy and other acts of environmental harm. The information in this article is specific to greenwash investigation, but may be used for a wide variety of other investigative activities.)

Posted in Advice, General Hypocrisy, Revenge | 5 Comments »