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ATLANTA (March 30) -- Just in time for April Fool's Day, Earth Day 2000, the consumer clearinghouse for the environmental decade, released "Don't Be Fooled," its annual report highlighting the top 10 greenwashers of the previous year.
This year's report names 10 companies and coalitions attempting to create the image of environmental friendliness while diverting attention from their poor environmental track records and recent misdeeds. "Don't Be Fooled" also contains a brief explanation and history of greenwashing, a look at how organizations like the Federal Trade Commission are combating misleading claims and easy-to-follow tips for consumers to use when making everyday purchases.
"These corporations paint themselves green to cover up their rotten records." said Jill Johnson, Campaign Organizer for Earth Day 2000. "Consumers do not support corporations that harm the environment. In business, you simply cannot succeed without consumer support."
Last year, "greenwash" was entered in the 10th edition of the Concise Oxford English Dictionary. Officially defined as the "disinformation disseminated by an organization so as to present an environmentally responsible public image," its inclusion indicates the significance and permanence of a growing trend among corporations to take advantage of the many consumers who look for products with little environmental impact. A 1999 Cone/Roper Survey found that Americans are more likely to conduct business with companies supporting strong causes such as environmental protection and 83 percent of respondents say they have a more positive image of a company supporting a cause they care about.
"When you see environmental claims or symbols in advertising or labeling, look for specific information. For example, environmental claims should be clear about whether they apply to the product or to it's packaging," said Jodie Bernstein, Director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection. "At the same time, be suspicious of incredible claims using scientific-sounding mumbo jumbo."
Of all the oil giants, BP Amoco has perhaps most carefully crafted its image to appear concerned about the environment. The company was named to the Don't Be Fooled list because of self-created fanfare around its entrance into the world of renewable energy sources. On March 7th, 1999, BP Amoco bought Maryland-based Solarex, making it the largest solar company in the world. Less than a week later, BP Amoco announced it's "Plug in the Sun" program in which the company will install solar panels in 200 gas stations around the world. BP Amoco's bright ads proclaimed, "We fill you up by sunshine." While these actions are good for the environment, the bottom line is that the company is diverting attention from the real consequences of its fossil fuel business. BP Amoco is still filling you up with gasoline, a leading cause of global warming. BP Amoco's main role in contributing to climate change is through the burning of the oil and gas it produces. In fact, BP Amoco oil and gas accounts for about 2% of all global greenhouse gas emissions. The company's bottom dollar paints a clearer picture. Records show BP Amoco spent almost 600 times more to buy ARCO, another oil company, than it spent to purchase Solarex, the solar energy company. BP Amoco plans to spend $5 billion on oil exploration and development in Alaska alone over the next five years. The corporation is lobbying to drill for oil specifically in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, one of the last pristine wilderness areas in Alaska that serves as a home to threatened wildlife species and indigenous people. It is estimated that the area's oil supplies would last just six months.
"Consumers will have to remain vigilant in identifying and combating greenwash. We cannot afford to believe the companies when they tell us they have solved the problem," said Kenny Bruno of Corporate Watch. "Through government and citizen pressure we must pressure them to do the right thing, not just to say the right thing."
Based on that premise, Earth Day 2000 is launching a new campaign called ecopledge.com. The campaign will ask individual corporations to make a specific change in their practices to reduce their impact on the environment. Consumers, investors and students pledge not to buy from, invest in or seek jobs with these corporations if they fail to take the simple action.
"Corporations can no longer hide the truth behind millions of dollars of advertising,"said Johnson. "We will continue to inform consumers of which corporations' claims are green and which are just plain greenwash."
To obtain a copy of "Don't Be Fooled," call Earth Day 2000 at 1-877-EARTH-46.
Earth Day 2000 is the consumer clearinghouse for the environmental decade working with consumers to encourage corporations to be environmentally responsible and to keep the 30th anniversary of Earth Day on April 22, 2000 free of corporate greenwashing. In addition to "Don't Be Fooled," Earth Day 2000 puts out a bimonthly newsletter for consumers and releases a "Countdown 2000" report detailing progress made on the goals of Earth Day 1990.