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5 Point Guide to Greenwashing Adverts 04.06.10

With the rise in public interest in ethical investment a wide number of Banks have tried to re-position themselves, and their investment strategy, as somehow green and ’caring’. Your EthicalMoney, an EIRIS initiative, have done a 5 point guide to the more obvious greenwashing that advertising agencies have dreamed up to try and dress a goat as a lamb.

Source: YourEthicalMoney

1. Suggestive Imagery

A glance at the above poster could well be enough to place it in the ’green’ category. Such imagery is used across the product spectrum to reinforce this connection, even when there is no literal connection to be made.

2. Vague Language

Studies by marketing companies Futerra (UK) and TerraChoice (US) draw attention to this as a widespread problem, citing non-specific, fluffy terms such as ’environmentally friendly’, ’eco-conscious’, ’natural’, ’sustainably sourced’ and ’non-polluting’. The ad above similarly claims to contain ’recycled material’. But how much? 99%? 0.01%?

3. Good Product, Bad Company

The above product might suit the green needs of some savers, i.e. it’s paperless and makes a donation to a forestry charity. But the bank supplying the product might itself perform poorly on the environment or lend to companies that routinely pollute the air or water supply. Another such example of a good product sold by a bad company might be the provision of a basic account to the financially excluded by a bank with a poor record on responsible lending.

4. Exaggerated Claims

Note the hyperbole in the claim ’Saving Your Money and the Planet’. A paperless account offering small donations to a forestry charity is unlikely to achieve this grand aim. More importantly, the bank’s environmental policy might not address the wider issues of paper and energy consumption on an operational level, nor waste management. Furthermore, the bank could lend to corporations with a poor environmental record.

5. Irrelevant Claims

Again both Futerra and TerraChoice identify these as one of the more common forms of wash. The majority of bank accounts offer a paper-free option - which is a money-saving perk for the bank itself. Also 25p per £100 amounts to a £2.50 donation per £1,000 saved and is not a particularly effective way of giving, though it may suit some savers. Another underlying question here is what the bank then does with the saved money. Who does it lend it on to?

The good news is that more and more consumers are taking the time to analyse the content of advertisements and register their dissatisfaction at some of the claims being made. In 2007 the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) received 561 complaints about 410 adverts making environmental claims, compared to 117 complaints about 83 such adverts the previous year, that’s a fourfold increase.

While it’s important to have a healthy distrust of advertising campaigns, one must be careful not to abandon all products ’just in case’ they aren’t what they claim to be. Think about your needs first. Would a paper-free account that donates a small sum of money be enough for you, for example? Or do you think that financial service providers should be doing more?

Stay savvy: look for the signs outlined above. If you can spot wash, you can easily spot the real thing, too - the fewer questions you have to ask, the more likely a product ’does exactly what it says on the tin’.

Interested in Ethical Investing? Then YourEthicalmoney from EIRIS is a good place to start

EIRIS- Ethical Investment Research Services

Peter Shield

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