Check out this story in BrandWeek magazine!
(WASHINGTON)—Green ads from Chevrolet, Ozarka and Toyota Prius are among the first to be scrutinized by consumers on a new Web site launched today by EnviroMedia Social Marketing, in partnership with the advertising faculty of the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication (SOJC). This online forum allows consumers to judge for themselves the green claims made by major advertisers.
The Web site — www.GreenwashingIndex.com — debuts from the nation’s capital one day before the Federal Trade Commission kicks off its first in a series of public workshops addressing environmental marketing claims. Ultimately, the FTC may update its “Green Guides,” which were originally established in 1992 as guidelines to avoid action by the agency against advertising with an environmental claim that is unfair or deceptive.
EnviroMedia CEO Valerie Davis will present comments at the FTC workshop January 8 in Washington, D.C.
EnviroMedia principals Valerie Davis and Kevin Tuerff announced the Greenwashing Index from the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Bali, Indonesia, Dec. 11 and called on consumers to submit ads. The first posts of real ads are now on the Web site, and consumers are invited to score those ads and post others.
“We’ve been witnessing a tidal wave of green advertising over the past year,” said EnviroMedia President Kevin Tuerff. “It’s our hope the Greenwashing Indexsm will help eradicate bad environmental marketing claims and, at the same time, shine a positive light on companies making measurable reductions in carbon emissions related to climate change.”
“Greenwashing,” a term that has been around for many years, is used to describe a company or organization that spends more time and money claiming to be green through advertising and marketing than actually implementing business practices that minimize environmental impact.
“When an ad is posted and ranked on the Greenwashing Indexsm site, it doesn’t necessarily mean a company or organization is not doing a good job with its environmental marketing claims,” said EnviroMedia CEO Valerie Davis. “We’re providing a venue that educates consumers on what to look for in green ads and an easy mechanism for evaluating them. Scores will range from ‘good,’ to ‘pushing it,’ to ‘total greenwashing.’”
The Greenwashing Index™
Criteria for the Greenwashing Indexsm were developed by the University of Oregon’s SOJC Advertising program. Led by Professors Deborah Morrison and Kim Sheehan, a group of academicians developed and weighted five criteria consumers can use to scrutinize advertisements and determine whether they believe ads are greenwashing by doing any of the following:
o Misleading with words
o Misleading with visuals and/or graphics
o Making a green claim that is vague or seemingly unprovable
o Overstating or exaggerating how green the product/company/service actually is
o Leaving out or masking important information, making the green claim sound better than it is.
“The Greenwashing Indexsm has great potential for not just educating consumers but just as important for also educating our future advertising professionals that there’s a right way and a wrong way to conduct environmental marketing,” said Morrison.
3M is one company that seems to be aware of the perils of not sticking to substance when it comes to green advertising claims.
“I regularly get accosted for disallowing vague claims for a 3M product that competitors are making for similar products,” said Susan Price, who visited the Greenwashing Indexsm site and serves as chairperson for 3M’s Environmental Marketing Claims Committee. “I’m very pleased to see a forum where vague and bogus claims can be highlighted and questioned.”
Developing sustainable business practices and accurately telling that story is good business. According to a survey released in December by AARP, 40 million “Green Boomers” are more attuned to advertising both good and bad and are very willing to spend money on environmentally sound products.
Said one visitor to GreenwashingIndex.com: “I make it a point to buy green products, and I am willing to spend a little extra if I’m buying something that is supposed to be environmentally friendly. I don’t want to spend my money foolishly, and I don’t want to hand my money over to liars.”
To submit or rate ads, the public may visit GreenwashingIndex.com.
Headquartered in Austin, Texas, EnviroMedia Social Marketing is the leading U.S. marketing agency delivering sustainability consulting and authentic, ethical campaigns that get measurable results since 1997. The company has been recognized with several awards for ethics in advertising. For more information, visit EnviroMedia.com.