Posted by keith on May 6th, 2010
David at The Good Human got in touch to let me know about his brilliant article on yet another “Hey guys, aren’t we green!” PR back-slapping shindig. Of course I had to repost it, and couldn’t resist a little subvertising (see above)…
What do you get when a bunch of unsustainable companies pay a lot of money to become sponsors/attendees of an upcoming event called Sustainable Brands? You get a massive greenwashing event where “real” sustainable brands like the Monterey Bay Aquarium, Interface Americas, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, Living Homes, and the Environmental Defense Fund get mixed in with some the world’s most unsustainable companies and thus don’t get the real kudos they may deserve from us. So which companies will be attending/sponsoring a conference on sustainability but have no business being there? Let’s take a look at a few from the list…
Clorox – Makers of bleach, Liquid Plumber, Pine-Sol, and Tilex. Bleach production and use releases dioxin, furans and other organochlorines into the air, and studies have shown a relationship between dioxin exposure and cancer, birth defects, and developmental/reproductive disorders. Inhaling the fumes may lead to sore throat, cough, wheezing, and shortness of breath, along with fluid in the lungs, and ingesting household bleach can cause oral, esophageal and gastric burns as well as produce nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain. Sure sounds like a “sustainable brand” to me. How about you?
Coca-Cola – I like Coke. I drink Coke occasionally. Coke tastes good. But the Coca-Cola brand is most definitely not a sustainable brand. They produce and sell Dasani bottled water, which is just filtered tap water in plastic bottles. Regular old tap water costs about $0.002 per gallon compared to the $0.89 to $8.26 per gallon charge for bottled water like this, while 88% of empty plastic water bottles in the United States are not recycled. The Container Recycling Institute says that plastic water bottles are disposed of (not recycled) at the rate of 30 million a day! Also, the production of the plastic (PET or polyethylene) bottles to meet our demand for bottled water takes the equivalent of about 17.6 million barrels of oil (not including transportation costs). That equals the amount of oil required to fuel more than one million vehicles in the U.S. each year. Around the world, bottling water uses about 2.7 million tons of plastic…each year. Add in the HFCS they use in their soda products and, well, you can just about remove the word sustainable from their brand.
Dow Chemical – You may remember last week’s Greenwash of the Week which involved these guys. They were sponsoring a “Live Earth Run For Water” in New York City and thought no one would notice. Responsible for such amazing products as the Agent Orange sprayed all over our troops and Vietnamese people in Vietnam and some major dioxin pollution in cities across the world (which still isn’t cleaned up and is being ignored by Dow), I guess they figure that by showing up at Sustainable Brands all will be forgiven. Not so fast, Dow. In Bhopal, India roughly 30,000 people are still drinking water contaminated with heavy metals and organochlorines; in North America Dow is responsible for dangerous dioxin contamination around its global headquarters in Midland, Michigan, vinyl chloride contamination in Louisiana, dioxin & furan contamination in Western Canada, and Dow toxins are poisoning people and ecosystems in Vietnam, South Africa, New Zealand, Brazil, and Central America. Sustainable? I think not.
Nestle – Another Greenwash of the Week veteran! As of late, Nestle has become the target of several anti-Nestle campaigns and stories. Why, you ask?
* In Maine, Nestle has repeatedly sued (5 times and counting) the tiny rural town of Fryeburg – a clear attempt to litigate the tiny town into insolvency, winning the right to tap the local aquifer by default. Why? Because the town’s planning commission – and a majority of its citizens – said “no” to Nestle’s proposed 24/7 water pumping station (which returned little economic value to the town) and its accompanying traffic, noise, and pollution.
* In Michigan, Nestle – despite repeatedly proclaiming themselves “good corporate neighbors” who would never damage a watershed – were ordered to reduce pumping after courts repeatedly found Nestle was damaging a local watershed.
* In 2008, The Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal (PPT), led by Nobel peace prize winner, Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, accused 43 companies present in Colombia of various human rights violations. The Tribunal, consisting of various international notables, made such accusations after almost three years of investigating allegations of human rights violations in Colombia. Among the companies accused of human rights violations are Coca Cola, Nestlé, British Petroleum (BP) and Telefonica. The PPT also said the Colombian Government is equally responsible for the violation of human rights, “favoring capital over people’s lives”. 
* Canadian environmental groups have filed a misleading advertising complaint against Nestle disputing claims in an ad by the world’s largest food company that its bottled water has numerous ecological benefits.
* Greenpeace has new evidence which shows that Nestle – the makers of Kit Kat – are using palm oil produced in areas where the orangutans’ rainforests once grew. Even worse, the company doesn’t seem to care.
Do I really need to go on about how Nestle is by no means a Sustainable Brand?
SC Johnson – Makers of Pledge, Ziploc, Off!, Glade, Raid, Windex, Scrubbing Bubbles, and Drano. What a collection of sustainable products they have! I have featured them as a Greenwash of the Week before, Treehugger has added them to their Greenwash Watch series, and Seventh Generation wonders when Drano became “non-toxic and environmentally friendly”. A Sustainable Brand? I think not.
Wal-Mart – For my money, I have saved the best for last here. In fact, just yesterday it was announced that Wal-Mart is being fined $27.6 million dollars for environmental violations in California. What better timing than right before they head to a conference on being sustainable! The money is to settle charges that it violated California environmental laws by improperly handling, storing and disposing of hazardous materials such as pesticides, chemicals, paint, acid, aerosols, fertilizer and motor oil. Yummy. Last year they announced their “Sustainability Index“, of which CorpWatch said “It is an amazing act of chutzpah for Wal-Mart, which probably keeps more sweatshops in business than any other company, to claim moral authority to ask suppliers about the treatment of workers in their supply chain.” They have also been charged with countless human rights violations, gender discrimination, and the selling of non-organic food as organic in their stores. Wal-Mart Watch says that “Wal-Mart is so obsessed with being politically correct on the “sustainability” issue, that they tell you more about the printing of their annual report than the number of dead store eyesores they have left empty. Here is how Wal-Mart describes the print version of its Annual Report: “It is printed on FSC-certified responsibly forested paper containing recycled PCW fiber that is Elementally Chlorine Free (ECF). It is printed using 100% renewable wind power (RECs), along with environmental manufacturing principles that were utilized in the printing process.” The company claimed it saved “517 fewer trees consumed via recycling”. What Oscar Wilde said about cynics is true for Wal-Mart as well: Their sustainability counters know “the price of everything and the value of nothing.”” Truly now, and be honest – does that sound like a company that should even be allowed anywhere near a conference on Sustainable Brands? At least one that wants to be taken seriously and not just look like corporate shills?
There are many, many more companies attending and/or paying for this conference that I probably should list here too – but I think you get the point. Sure, there will be plenty of companies in attendance who TRULY want to do the right thing, but I am afraid of them getting so covered in the greenwash that is the rest of these attendees that they won’t be very effective at getting out their message. If this conference wants to really be about sustainability, they wouldn’t allow these types of companies to attend, period. We need events like this that are really about what they say they are so they mean something. I am sure when these started they meant to do well, but by allowing corporations like the ones listed above to participate, it definitely dilutes the meaning. While spreading the word about this conference and its greenwashing attempts is absolutely necessary (and please help by sending this to all your green friends so they know about it), the best thing we can do is use our wallets to express our displeasure with companies like Clorox, Wal-Mart, and the others. Buy products that are actually sustainable and not just marketed as such through PR firms and “green” conferences. Shop at stores that treat their workers fairly. Purchase safer alternatives to everyday common toxic goods. And above all else, be aware of what you are being sold, both literally and figuratively.
Don’t fall for this kind of marketing of “sustainability” when much of it is anything but. Unchecked events like this only hurt the entire environmental movement by helping unworthy companies to sell toxic crap as “green” in the pursuit of the almighty dollar.