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The Don't Be Fooled Report

The Top Ten Greenwashers of 1999

April 14, 1999

Earth Day 2000

The Consumer Clearinghouse for the Environmental Decade

The 1999 Don't Be Fooled Award Winners

This report announces the recipients of the 1999 "Don't Be Fooled Awards." More and more, American consumers look for products that are environmentally responsible, but find it difficult to sort through all of the claims that companies make in advertisements and on product labels. Annually, Earth Day 2000 releases this report in order to call people's attention to the past year's worst greenwashers: those corporations that have made especially misleading or false claims about the environmental benefits of their products and industries. The "Don't Be Fooled Report" describes companies' greenwashing attempts as well as the truth behind the false claims.

About Earth Day 2000

One Earth Day 1990, millions of people around the world participated in events to demonstrate their concern about the health of the Earth's ecosystems and to discuss ways to create more sustainable patterns of living. Earth Day 2000 was formed in 1991 to help individuals live out the commitments they made to their planet on Earth Day 1990. Earth Day 2000 does this in several ways:

The Earth Day 2000 newsletter is an easy to read guide designed to help individuals live their commitment to a healthier planet. The newsletter is produced five times per year and is full of easy to read summaries of simple tips on a wide variety of issues from recycling to ozone depletion, from eco-travel to energy efficiency. We also help sort out the genuine as well as the bogus environmental claims and have articles on prominent figures in the green consumer movement.

Once a year, Earth Day 2000 issues its Countdown 2000 report, our yearly checkup on the health of our planet. We help keep alive the global goals for the green decade, proclaimed on Earth Day 1990, by updating the public on the progress we have made on a variety of pressing environmental problems, including global warming, solid waste and toxic pollution.

The Don't Be Fooled Report is a public education component of Earth Day 2000's Truth in Environmental Advertising Campaign. Also through this campaign, Earth Day 2000 campaigns for tougher environmental consumer laws and more accurate labeling and advertising. Earth Day 2000, along with other environmental groups including USPIRG, Ozone Action and the Environmental Law Foundation, have successfully settled two lawsuits against Sanyo and Maytag for failing to disclose to consumers that their refrigerators, freezers, and coolers contained ozone depleting chemicals.

Nobody ever said that Earth Day was going to turn our society toward a sustainable future in one day; we must all join together to make it happen. On Earth Day 1990 people joined together to launch the Environmental Decade: ten years of commitment to changing our society and putting our long-term health first. Earth Day 2000 is working to achieve that goal, to ensure that on the thirtieth anniversary of Earth Day we have some work in which to take pride.

For more information, contact:

Earth Day 2000

11965 Venice Blvd., #408, Los Angeles, CA 90066

(800) 727-8619


Greenwashing (v): to make misleading claims about the environmental benefits of a product, or good works of a corporation. Designed primarily to capitalize on consumers' desire to preserve the planet through buying green.

The History of Greenwashing

After Earth Day 1990 companies began greenwashing in earnest. Millions of people had joined together to protest the degradation of the planet on Earth Day 1990 and companies realized that the public took the environment into account when spending money. Many companies began making misleading claims about their products to capitalize on consumers' desire to preserve the planet by buying green. From hair spray to trash bags, from cleaners to toilet paper, people have been fooled by the environmental product claims made by companies. The average consumer cannot prove a product is ozone friendly or biodegradable in the same way that they can check if a laundry detergent cleans better or a battery lasts longer.

Along with dishonest claims on products, whole corporations with less than perfect records have tried to portray themselves in a good light by claiming that they are helping the earth in various ways. Various tactics have been used including Chevron showing bear cubs in their ads to imply that their products have a positive impact on wildlife and Proctor and Gamble distributing education materials designed to educate students about solid waste issues with a clear bias in favor of their products. In this year's "Don't Be Fooled Report", we shine the spotlight on 10 of the most blatant greenwashing offenses of the past year.

The Campaign for Truth in Environmental Advertising

There have been various attempts to put an end to greenwashing. The first step was taken in November 1990 when a task force of ten state attorneys general released "The Green Report." The report reviewed the controversies around issues of "degradable" plastics, "recyclable" materials, and claims of recycled content. The task force recognized the growth in environmental claims made it hard for consumers to sort out the legitimate claims from the greenwashing. "The Green Report" found a need for federal standards to guide advertising and recommended specific standards to incorporate into any legislation on environmental claims.

There were two direct consequences of the attorneys general task force and "The Green Report." First, Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey sponsored a bill called the Environmental Marketing Claims Act in the 1991-2 congressional session. Unfortunately, the bill failed to move through Congress and has not yet been reintroduced in Congress.

Second, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issues a series of guidelines about environmental product claims for businesses, in June 1992. Since then, the FTC has worked to refine and clarify those guidelines. The FTC's guidelines were finalized in 1998, including clarification on solid waste and composting definition http://www.ftc.gov/os/1998/9804/greengui.fr1.htm. These guidelines cover the terms mentioned above, but in the words of the FTC, "The guidelines are not, themselves, legally enforceable, but are administrative guidelines for present FTC laws on overall marketing claims." The FTC contacts companies that do not stick to the guidelines, but, in many cases, the FTC will allow a product to stay on the shelf for several months while the company uses their existing supplies of packaging. This is allowed despite the fact that the company is dishonestly making money off people who want to buy "green" products. After almost seven years with the FTC guidelines, companies are still making false claims, showing that we need legal definitions to really make companies stop greenwashing.

There is good news. One of the first green labeling statutes, which gives strict legal definitions to terms like recycled, became law in California in 1990. The law was challenged, but upheld in Federal Court in 1995. The Association of National Advertisers, which includes companies such as Proctor and Gamble, attempted to have California's Green Label Statute (Business and Professional Code 17508.5) declared unconstitutional because they claimed it infringed on their right to free speech.

In the case of companies who try and create a general environmental feel good image for themselves, like many of the huge oil, chemical and paper companies, the guidelines are far less strict. A company like Chevron can afford to take ads in all the major magazines (and they often do) and portray themselves as environmentally responsible when in fact they are major contributors to environmental degradation and/or opponents to environmental reform.

The first steps have been taken, but Earth Day 2000 believes that corporations must be accountable for their actions. With ongoing industry led attempts to roll back nearly thirty years of environmental laws, it is even more important that corporations give the public green responsibility - not green rhetoric.




The 1999 "Don't Be Fooled" Awards Go Toá


  1. Ford. In a one-page ad published in March 2000 issue of Discover, Ford claims, "Only one thing smells better than a new car. Fresh Air." While Ford's SUV's may get one through the outback to enjoy fresh air, those same gas guzzling vehicles leave a wake of air pollution in their trail. Ford's newest SUV, the Excursion, is a four-ton "superduty" SUV. The nine-passenger Excursion stretches over 19 feet in length. It will slurp one gallon of gas for every 10-12 miles in travels. By comparison, current corporate average fuel economy standard is 27.5 miles per gallon. According to the Sierra Club, this "suburbia assault vehicle," will spew as much global warming pollution into the air as two average cars. According to the Energy Foundation, transportation accounts for about 50% of all air pollution emissions in the United States and more than 80% of air pollution in cities. Every tank of gasoline consumed by an automobile produces up to 400 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions. A top 10 Superfund polluter with more than 40 sites to its credit, Ford is also a member of the Global Climate Coalition working to prevent policies to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases. The company is so confident of its environmental reputation that they have a virtual program for kids called EarthQuest, featuring a character called the evil Toxicus. http://www2.ford.com/display.asp?story=406. The program gets kids to ask, "What can I do for the environment?" http://www2.ford.com/display.asp?story=341. Ford, to answer your own question, stop producing gas guzzlers for greed and start producing environmentally sensitive vehicles.
  2. Monsanto. Monsanto makes the list this year for once again greenwashing its herbicide Roundup. In their online Sustainable Development report, the statement of Monsanto's Vice president, Nick Reding, tries to portray Roundup as a product which "on balance" is beneficial to the environment:

    "áWhile it takes resources and creates wastes to manufacture Roundup herbicide, the net impact of providing this product for growers' use is, on balance, strongly beneficial. In other words, using no-till farming with Roundup in place of conventional tillage helps reduce soil erosion thus preventing water pollution from agricultural runoff. This also saves tractor fuel along with reducing CO2 emissions from that fuel. Another benefit is the retention of carbon in the soil rather than its release as a greenhouse gas into the atmosphere."

    This statement comes from the same company and same product that earned a past "Don't Be Fooled" award and a lawsuit by the New York State Attorney Generals' office for advertising Roundup to be "as safe as table salt". In truth, Roundup is a powerful pesticide. And, because all pesticides are toxic, it is never appropriate to claim that they are safe. http://www.monsanto.com/monsanto/about/sustainability/letters.html

  3. Nuclear Energy Institute. In a one page color ad in March 27-Apriil 2nd edition of The Economist, the Nuclear Energy Institute, funded by a membership which includes the 42 American nuclear utility companies, boasts that "Fresh Air to Fresh Food: Nuclear Makes It Happen." The ad then notes that nuclear power generates electricity without emitting greenhouse gasses. In addition, the ad states that nuclear power is one of our cleanest energy sources. In another full page color ad, published November 11, 1998 in the New York Times, NEI states "Nuclear plants are also the largest energy sources that produces no greenhouse gas emissions, so they help protect the environment." Their ads attempt to obfuscate the fact that radioactive waste is emitted by the nation's nuclear power facilities. At their website, http://www.nei.org/basics/ben.html, the NEI continues with their mythology that nuclear power is good for the environment since it produces "no emissions." Only under the NEI's delusion is radioactive waste not an emission. Nuclear waste is among the most toxic substances known to man. According to the Department of Energy, as of 1996, more than 36,000 metric tons of nuclear waste is being stored at commercial sites across the country. (A metric ton is the approximate equivalent of a sports car.) This waste must be stored safely for thousands of years to not be a widespread environmental menace. No permanent storage plan exists for these already produced wastes. And, as we have seen with the lingering effects of the Chernobyl disaster, the simple operations of nuclear power plants pose environmental threats.
  4. Home Depot. This big box hardware store chain is nominated this year for its Environmental Information website series (www.homedepot.com. Select the "community info." button on the left) which it uses to claim its leadership in protecting the environment. We bestow this award because the Home Depot has taken great pains to create a environmental program that, on paper, encourages consumers to make environmentally correct choices. For example, it has published an environmental Greenprint brochure series to inform consumers of environmentally preferred choices. The effectiveness of these programs is clearly inadequate when Home Depot is the leading purchaser of wood products from some of the last remaining ancient forests in western Canada. The Home Depot stores' large volume sales of redwood and other precious woods fuels the demand for these products. This, in turn, expedites the destruction of these unique forests. Repeated requests to stop selling these products by environmental groups, such as the Rainforest Action Network, have gone unheeded. If Home Depot wants to take credit for being a leader in the environment, they need to stop selling ancient forest wood.
  5. Exxon. Still recovering from the environmental and public relations nightmare of the Exxon-Valdez oil spill in Alaska, the company has attempted to shine its environmental image by designing "green" programs. In honor of the company mascot, Exxon set up the Tiger Protection Fund which gives $6 million over 5 years and offers a Tiger Conservation Education Kit to teachers. These contributions are a drop in the bucket compared to environmental damages caused by the company. The March 24, 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill was one of the worst environmental disasters in history, spilling more than 11 million gallons of oil into Prince William Sound which contaminated 1,500 miles of shoreline and devastated all ecosystems in its path. Furthermore, Exxon has been responsible for $252 million in damages to Lockheed workers who were exposed to chemicals in top-secret facilities in California and $4.8 million in fines for dumping Selenium into San Francisco Bay. Maybe Exxon could commit some serious resources to protecting the environment rather than destroying it. http://www.exxon.com/exxoncorp/main_frame_3_ie4.html
  6. Pacific Lumber. This corporation is nominated this year for its self-congratulatory website that aggrandizes their 1928 (Yes, nineteen twenty-eight) agreement not to cut stands of forest in northern California. http://www.pacificlumber.com/parks.htm In their online ad, http://www.pacificlumber.com/enviroad.htm, they state:

    "It's true for people- and it's true for owls, murrelets and salmon, too.

    When we design and build our homes, we have many choices; and those choices affect the future for us all. We want to choose materials that are renewable, recyclable, energy efficient and biodegradable. We prefer materials produced locally, rather than exporting our environmental burden to other regions. These are all important reasons why wood from our own forests is our favorite building material."

    They go on to argue that redwood timber should be used because it is the environmentally correct choice (the wood is renewable, reusable, energy efficient, and biodegradable). http://www.pacificlumber.com/enviro.htm. They fail to mention that some of the redwoods they chop are several hundred years old and will not be "renewed" in any of our lifetimes. For the past several years, the company has vigorously fought to cut down California's Headwaters Forest, one of the last remaining ancient forests in the United States. Though the company may have saved small stands of forest in their 1928 agreements, Headwaters represents a critical part of just 4% of the United States remaining old growth forests (source: Rainforest Action Network). The permanent destruction of a unique and nonrenewable forest that is hundreds and thousands of years in age cannot be justified.

  7. BP Alaska. BP Alaska is awarded the "Don't be Fooled report" for the publication of their 1998 report, "Environmental Performance on Alaska's North Slope." The report details the company's environmental procedures of its operations in the region. The cover photo features a beautiful, pristine expanse of permafrost - with the company's facilities in very distance. The report painstakingly details their environmental operations attempts protect the region. It features photos of the local wildlife: caribou, bear, fox, birds, and more. However, BP Alaska is at the front of corporate efforts to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling. Located in the far northeast corner of Alaska, the area is one of the last true large wildernesses left on earth. Quite simply, oil production operations cause environmental destruction. Environmental accidents happen even in the most careful of operations. BP, in its own report, notes that in a good year, they spilled about 3,000 gallons of oil, produced water, chemicals, and "other". However, in 1993, 2 spills resulted in the number of gallons rising to just under 60,000 gallons spilled. In addition, the company is responsible for 23 Superfund sites and the 1998 release of 150,000 gallons of oil into the Mississippi River. BP, point your "green thumb" away from the truly pristine Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
  8. American Plastics Council. The American Plastics Council wins the award this year for its unique approach to attacking the long term, environmental impacts of plastic: they claim that plastics are good for the environment. http://www.plasticsresource.com. They maintain that plastics contribute to resource conservation because they take up less room in landfills and require less packaging. Quite simply, plastics are not good for the environment. Most communities have no facilities for recycling plastics. Once produced, they take thousands of years to degrade. And, some types of plastics cause cancer, liver damage and neurotoxicity. The American Plastics Council's websites boasts that the industry has grown by 55% since 1990. In comparison, a report on plastics recycling, produced in 1997 by the Environmental Defense Fund, demonstrates that the rate of recycling remained static or fell from 1995-96. And, since 1990, 13 times more virgin plastic was produced than was recycled.
  9. Phillips Petroleum Company. An advertisement published on the last page of the September 7, 1998 edition of the New Yorker features migratory birds in a wetland stand, dark, against the setting sun reflecting off the water. The header states, "Thanks to Phillips, weary travelers will always have a place to stop and refuel." Phillips' ad then congratulates Phillips for donating a former plant site to the Cactus Playa Lake Project, which expanded the habitat for migratory birds in the Central Flyway. Just 45 miles away as the crow flies, the Phillips plant in Borger, Texas emitted more than 16,000 pounds of reproductive toxins (these are toxins that impair and affect reproductive systems). Overall, 4 of Phillips plants produced more than 36,000 pounds of this category of toxins in 1997. Together, this number puts Phillips in the top 10 producers of reproductive toxins. In addition, the company has spent $740,000 in PAC contributions for the advocacy of fossil fuels that adversely impact the environment. Thanks to Phillips, the short stop for these birds might mean a migrating legacy of reproductive problems.
  10. Chevron. Special recognition goes to Chevron for its 5th straight nomination for the "Don't Be Fooled" award. The company's "People Do" campaign, running since 1985, promotes the oil producing, toxic spewing behemoth as a friend of the environment. Television ads, aired this past year primarily in California, Louisiana, and Texas, portray Chevron as a caretaker of wildlife. In the ads, Chevron advertises that they use sonar to keep killer whales from mistakenly wandering into the path of their oil rigs; and they leave abandoned oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico to serve as an artificial reef on which wild life can flourish. (see http://www.chevron.com/environment/index.html.). In reality, Chevron's care of the environment goes skin deep. Though virtually every oil producing company has a string of environmental misdeeds, Chevron's track record is not nearly as clean as "People Do" portrays. While running its "People Do" campaign over the past decade, the company has paid out $71.7 million in fines for environmental violations. Currently, the EPA is suing Chevron USA for dumping toxics wastes from its El Segundo, California refinery into publicly owned city sewers. The oil behemoth lays claim to the waste that created 49 Superfund sites. In March 1997, Chevron received a $1.2 million fine for operating a well off of the Ventura, CA coast with a broken anti-blowout valve, described by authorities as a key pollution prevention feature on a drilling platform. The penalty represents the largest fine in history for violations of the federal Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act. Do people and companies greenwash their anti-environmental actions? People Do. Chevron Does.





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