Green Wash

Review: Book

Green Wash, Big Brands and Carbon Scams,
Guy Pearse, Black Inc. 2012

The science is in. Climate change is happening and has been happening since the industrial revolution. People who are concerned about climate change are frustrated by all the denials and misleading information being promulgated.

The sad facts are that the chickens are coming home to roost and still there continues to be a complete lack of action to address the issues.

The general outlook has become more bleak in recent years as our elected governments have stalled in taking the required urgent and realistic actions.

We have no leaders within government.

Despite this, on the positive side there are many signs that in other arenas we are at least making some moves in the right direction.

And why wouldn’t we think that things are at least moving. We are being hounded daily by marketing from multiple sources about how products are environmentally conscious, environmentally friendly, climate friendly, planet friendly, have green stars, provide carbon off sets, and the list goes on. Many companies have their branding attached to products marketed as being friendly to the environment and/or that help with reducing the carbon footprint.

Guy Pearse spent four years watching TV advertisements, about 3,000, collected print advertisements, about 4,000 and reviewed more than 700 company reports (bloody hell! To read one company report is deadly, to even contemplate reading 700 is well beyond sanity).

Guy set out to find out to what extent these major brands were actually addressing climate change as part of the corporate responsibilities to the planet. He has reported his findings in this book and is not good. Like Guy, I would have expected a lot of bad stories and amongst them I would have expected by now that there would be a healthy group of companies that we doing the right things. That’s the catch, what is doing the right thing by the planet?

His areas of interest was large. It included banks, beer, big box retail, cars, coffee, electricity, fashion, flights, hotels, pets, real estate, soft drink and more. The companies include Earth Hour,  Coke, Pepsi, Starbucks, GM Motors, Toyota, Nissan, DHL, McDonald’s, Barclays Bank, HSBC bank, Sony, Google, Panasonic, Apple, Virgin Group and KPMG. Australia’s National Australia Bank and Fosters.

In summary what Guy Pearse has identified is that many of these brands have taken some very discrete actions within a small segment of their market. This is usually a good thing. But their claims are huge. The reality is that there actual overall market share continues to grow enormously and in the vast majority of these activities the carbon footprint is ever-expanding. The overall result for the big brands is that their consequential contributions to damaging the environment far outweighs the limited benefits being gained by the very small examples used to back up their environmental claims.

Many of the brands attach themselves to other environmental causes. Earth Hour being a clear example. Through this partnership or donation or collaboration, or sometimes just by sitting on the board of a green group, the big brands are using  green wash to project a caring for the environment attitude to their total brand. Meanwhile for most it is business as usual.

From Wikipedia: Greenwashing is a form of spin in which green PR or green marketing is deceptively used to promote the perception that an organization’s products, aims and/or policies are environmentally friendly. Evidence that an organization is greenwashing often comes from pointing out the spending differences: when significantly more money or time has been spent advertising being “green” (that is, operating with consideration for the environment), than is actually spent on environmentally sound practices. Greenwashing efforts can range from changing the name or label of a product to evoke the natural environment on a product that contains harmful chemicals to multimillion dollar advertising campaigns portraying highly polluting energy companies as eco-friendly.

This book is important to read although once you make your way through the categories, there are twenty-six of them, you start to see the pattern and templates being used of by the companies. The shock is the extent of the spin, deception, lies and misleading information.

One aspect of contemporary green wash overlooked was the marketing by property development sector. Their main front for being environmentally concerned is the Green Building Council of Australia. I have always said that the Green Building Council is excellent at what it does. It deserves ten stars for its work and promotions. It has adopted a slogan ‘beyond green wash’.

Have a look around your suburbs to see how many buildings and properties are truly assisting with climate change adaptation. There are incremental improvements but they are dramatically outweighed by the business as usual approach to most buildings, large and small, new developments as well as redevelopment. The Green Building Council continues to do a fantastic job of providing a rating system for the property industries to deliver a high-profile and in plain sight green wash for so many in the property, building and architecture and engineering sectors.

I will save writing more about the Green Building Council for another day.

Here’s an article by Guy Pearse back in 2010 in the earlier stages of his research.

and an interview of Guy Pearse after the book was published:


There not much more to say except to recommend you read this book, and then pass a copy onto someone who needs to know and who may assist in making real changes.

Recommended: Rating 9/10

PS: This book is published by Black Inc. There are many more good reads to be had by this publisher, who is also the publisher for The Monthly and the Quarterly Essays. And when you get a moment, take in some of the videos from Slow TV.


Well done Black Inc. I wish there were more of you.

Paul Costigan, 9 January 2014 

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