greenwashing: clean coat myth

Green washing


Fred Pearce is a writer for The Guardian Magazine in the environment department. I have discovered an article of his about clean coal written in 2008 “Time to bury the “clean coal” myth” where he talks about clean coal. He tried to prove that this example of green washing is not as eco as it is meant to be. Green washing is supposed to be environmentally friendly until corporations found out that these green campaigns increase profit and lowers the costs.

It all started in the 1960s along with the increasing popularity of the environmental movement. This became an opportunity for advertising companies to create a new image through ecology. Everyone had a negative perception over this strategy since eight times more money were invested in green washing campaigns than in pollution reduction. In 1985 Chevron Corporation launched the “People Do” campaign which was the most famous advertising. Later on, after surveys in California, they found out that Chevron Corporation was the most trusted one by the public to protect the environment, therefore boosting their profits.

Due to the changes this movement brought into industry, in 1988 the Federal Trade Commission defined terms used in environmental marketing, proving that The Nuclear Energy Institute was not running on ecologic terms. There was nothing they could do about ads, since it is beyond their jurisdiction. Even today, the label of green wash is highly questionable since it is poorly verified and institutes over the years have proven us that ecology is not what it should be.

Green washing begin by used mostly is hotel industry promoting the use of towels in a responsible manner in order to help the environment, due to little effort towards reducing energy waste. Certain substances used for cleaning were changed according to the toxicity level or only their names were changed. Today clean coal turns out to be part of the toxic products, not environmentally friendly.

According to Fred Pearce the term is “oxymoronic”: coal is about acid rain, mercury contamination and radioactive waste that destroys trees and causes lung cancer and global warming. Coal emits more carbon dioxide than any other fuel and the toxins have to go somewhere. The E.ON company wants to build a station to capture the emissions of carbon dioxide, but there isn’t such technology yet.

Clean coal has so much popularity because of the commercial advertising. Today John McCain and Barack Obama support it because it allows them to oppose dirty coal without antagonizing anyone, companies sponsoring electoral campaigns and no questions about global warming was asked. Another argument is that in Britain there is an Energy Agency called “Clean Coal Centre” that thanks to “industrial sponsors” they should provide information about the sustainable use of coal which they didn’t.

As a counterargument for this remain only the hope that institutes will find a way to capture the carbon dioxide emissions, which according to a study conducted by MIT, called The Future of Coal, that this technology would be available at its best in 2030. The Edison Electric Institute, which represent most US power generators, stated that commercial deployment will require at least 25 years of research. After this the US administration stopped the biggest R&D technological project saying it was too costly and industry is not ready for it.

Not only US but Australia’s prime minister Kevin Rodd is in favor clean coal as he believes he can solve some of the industry’s concern as coal provides most of the country’s electricity and valuable export. Germany also has hopes in building a new coal-fired power station and cut the country’s carbon dioxide by 40% until 2020. Nonetheless, John Hutton from Britain, claimed that a third of British electricity could be generated using CCS by 2030.

Fred Pearce believes he should fire the adviser who wrote that for him. He says clean coal it is a “mirage” and any power station built to capture the carbon dioxide would only deliver more toxins in the atmosphere.

In conclusion, green washing is related now to ineffectiveness that makes the consumer doubt about the quality of the product and all green claims. I believe this effect might cause the population to stop pursuing companies towards a better solution of manufacturing the products. As we have seen in Fred Pearce’s article, companies have used and still use green washing as a tool for manipulating the public into seeing their brands more reliable. It is sad that this cultural movement had turned into a strategy for marketing instead for the good of the environment.


  1. “Green washing”.
  2. Fred Pearce. “Time to bury the “clean coal” myth”. The Guardian Magazine. 30 October 2008.



Ioana Faur, Journalism English line, year III


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