Greenwashing - in depth

More and more, companies are making false environmental claims in their advertising and publications relations, attempting to 'greenwash' their image and cover up the real environmental impacts of their core business activities. In particular, oil companies – whose core business, by its very nature, has huge climate impacts – are spending major sums on slick advertising campaigns instead of actually investing to clean up their act.

Friends of the Earth Europe documents high profile cases of greenwash by some of the world's biggest polluters. Companies like E.on, Gazprom, OMV, Shell, ExxonMobil, Lufthansa and KLM, BMW and Volvo, claim to be 'greening the economy' with their supposedly sustainably-minded business approaches.

Influencing decisions

Greenwashing is most dangerous when, in forums like business summits, corporations are able to use their direct access to decision-makers to manipulate perceptions. They pretend their company's behaviour is the solution to climate change when in reality it is part of the problem.

Friends of the Earth Europe believes that instead of spending millions on public relation campaigns designed to paint themselves green, companies should instead make real efforts to improve their environmental performance.

We seek to expose companies' efforts to attain environmental credentials when, in reality, their operations have detrimental effects on the environment and local communities worldwide, and contribute significantly to climate change. We do this by:

  • filing complaints to advertising authorities;
  • researching the real impacts of companies' business practices;
  • and providing counter-propaganda at high profile business summits.

Mechanisms to prevent companies from making exaggerated or false environmental and social claims are under-developed, meaning that governments, civil society and the public have limited means to challenge greenwash.

Friends of the Earth Europe believes there is a need for greater harmonisation of the rules on unfair commercial practices and misleading advertisements, in different European countries, and that enforcement authorities should be given greater mandate and capacity to monitor and implement them.