In recent years, the competition among companies is fiercer than ever, and customers have been concerned about environmental issues, so many organizations devote themselves to attract customers via promoting green products and services. As a result, green products as well as greenwashing products, which are labeled as eco-friendly while actually they are not, have inundated the marketplace in modern society.
However, some companies overstate their environmental claims so that customers have difficulty in distinguishing real eco-friendly products from greenwashing ones. This essay will show the reasons for greenwashing problems and discuss Chevron’s (one of the world’s largest integrated energy companies) marketing strategies, which hides its destructive environmental records behind eco-friendly rhetoric and advertising campaigns.
There are four main reasons that greenwashing has become a problem in recent years. Firstly, greenwashing activities help to attract customers so that profits can be remarkably increased (Berkeley Media Studies Group 2008, p.20). According to Solman (2008, p.24), British Petroleum (BP), a well-known oil company, profited from the rebranding effort as the corporation changed its name to Beyond Petroleum which can be associated with nature. Meanwhile, greenwashing can help to improve a company’s reputation (Solman 2008, pp.22-23).
For example, Solman (2008, pp.22-23) states that BP launched a series of campaigns, hoping that customers would reappraise the company. As a result, Business Week, a famous magazine, acknowledged BP’s effort and praised the company’s investment in alternative energy (Solman 2008, p.23). However, BP is essentially an environmentally destructive corporation for its main profit comes from fossil oil. Thirdly, companies utilize greenwashing practice as an effective measure to increase investment into their products and new technologies (Solman 2008, p.23).
For instance, BP once launched a campaign called “BP on the street”, concentrating on attracting important investors and it became a great success (Solman 2008, p.23). Finally, there is no exact policy or regulation to stop greenwashing (Horiuchi et al. 2009, p.10). The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) failed in responsibility to oversee advertising practices for the reason that no organization has solved the problem or even slowed down companies’ step to greenwashing (Horiuchi et al. 2009, p.10).
In the 1980s, Chevron launched a “People Do” advertising campaign, fruitlessly trying to positively change its poor public reputation. The campaign is about saving sea turtles, includes a series of advertisements associated with nature and sends a message to customers that the company cares about protecting environment (Coover 2008, p.7). However, during the campaign, Chevron was to blame for one of the largest oil leaks in Los Angeles County (Coover 2008, pp.7-8). Thus, Chevron’s campaign is regarded as a public relations strategy in order to divert consumers from harmful effects of corporation on the planet and save its notorious reputation for damaging to the environment (Guber & Bosso 2007, p.47).
Furthermore, Chevron claims that it works with the government and its partners, protecting natural gas and looking for eco-friendly energy. In 2004, Chevron ran another brand marketing campaign and adopted “Turning partnership into energy” as its slogan (Johnson 2004, p.22). The slogan means that Chevron would cooperate with its competitors in protecting the nature and develop a new environmentally responsible partnership with foreign organizations. Although the campaign appeared in some famous television programs and well-known journals, Johnson (2004, p. 22) reports that the campaign “distorts the nature of the company’s environmental partnerships”.
For example, the donation of SANGEA, which is a kind of system used to assist petroleum companies with estimating, managing and reporting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, which is owned by American Petroleum Institute (API) and developed by ChevronTexaco, happened in the campaign was in fact “an act of collusion”. In fact, the chairman in API is ChevronTexaco’s CEO, which is rarely known by the public (Johnson 2004, p.23). The relationship between API and ChevronTexaco benefits the company because API would be on Chevron’s side without hesitation.
Chevron also contends that it has already cleaned up the oil well that it has had polluted before, which was exposed as a deceit. In 2009, Chevron was accused of an unsupported cleanup, in spite of its claiming that it had already finished the work (United Press International 2009). Besides, studies show that the company is continuing to pollute the environment (United Press International 2009).
According to TerraChioce Environmental Marketing Inc (2007, p.4), that Chevron misleads the public is the “Sin of Fibbing”, which means that the company “makes environmental claims” and do not states the truth. Since Chevron’s statement did not declare the fact that it failed to clean up where it had polluted before, the company conveyed the public with false information. Therefore, Chevron commits the “Sin of Fibbing”.
On the other hand, Chevron states that it has developed a standardized process for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, which proved to be effective. According to Nordrum and Lee (2002, p. 1), Chevron has realized the importance of climate change and planned to calculate greenhouse gas emissions. For example, ChevronTexaco Energy and Greenhouse Gas Inventory System (CEGIS) is designed by Chevron for the purpose of “managing its energy utilization and greenhouse gas emissions” by using the company’s worldwide exploration and production data (Nordrum & Lee 2002, p.6).
In addition, as the University of Kansas Facilities Operations suggest, Chevron has devoted both fund and manpower to observe the influences of energy bringing to environment (Swick 2007, pp.13-14). Besides, the company engages college students to help them estimate energy use and invests 18.3 million United States dollars into energy and water conservation measures (Swick 2007, pp.13-14).
This paper has explained why greenwashing has become a worldwide problem, discussed Chevron’s so called green campaigns and stated that the company deceived customers. Lacking in exact standard rules for green market and the temptation of large profits, high reputation and considerable investment result in the prevalence of greenwshing. Despite the fact that Chevron designed an efficient system to reduce GHG emissions, it has launched a series of greenwashing campaigns to meet the company’s needs of considerable profits at the cost of misleading customers.
As numerous companies promote eco-friendly products and service in market, consumers should be more aware of the environmental impact of their actions, and more ready than before to make purchasing decisions on the basis of a company’s green credentials.
References: Berkeley Media Studies Group. 2008, ‘Food Marketers Greenwash Junk Food’, Adweek, March, pp. 1-3.
Coover, L.C. 2008, ‘Greenwashing Global Warming’, July, pp. 1-18.
Guber, D.L. and Bosso, C.J. 2007, ‘Framing ANWR: Citizens, Consumers, and the Privileged Position of Business’, Business and environmental policy, pp.36-60.
Horiuchi, R., Schuchard, R., Shea, L. and Townsend, S. 2009, ‘Understanding and Preventing Greenwash: A Business Guide’, BSR, July, pp. 1 - 38.
Johnson, G. 2004, ‘Don’t be fooled’, The Green Life, April, pp. 2-49.
Nordrum, S. and Lee, A. 2002, ‘Development of a Corporate-wide Process for Estimating Energy Consumption and Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Oil and Gas Industry Operations’, pp. 1–13.
Swick, D. 2007, ‘An Examination of Greenhouse Gas Reduction Potential at the University of Kansas ’, May 18, pp. 1-23.
Solman, G. 2008, ‘Coloring Public Opinion?’, Adweek, vol.49, no.2, pp. 22-24.
TerraChoice Environmental Marketing Inc. 2007, ‘The ‘Six Sins of GreenwashingTM’’, A ’Green Paper’, November, pp. 1-9.
United Press International 2009, ‘ECUADOR: Chevron's Amazon 'fake cleanup' trial’, available at http://www.corpwatch.org/article.php?id=15400, accessed June 25, 2009.