Remember: Greenwashing is ’Sly’, not cool

In spite of a the litany of columns, reports and studies on the topic of Greenwashing, (, it seems that confusion ensues, resulting in more unsubstantiated claims which only serve to make the market more jaded and fussy with those that make them. I think the causes can often be traced to over-enthusiastic marketing teams who forget that what you do matters more than what you say. For these teams and others like them, I offer the following helpful memory device:

Responsible communication is Clive Owen. Children of Men, Clive Owen, especially. children-of-men-theo

Discounted by many, dogged and committed, often indelicate, the guy backs up his statements and pretty much single-handedly saves the world. No pretentiousness, just results. Action first, communication second. Have you seen this movie? You must.

Greenwashing, then, is Sylvester Stallone, let’s say in Rambo III. ramboiii

Bless him for his energy and creativity, there’s a lot more bluster than substance here. Overly produced and with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer, his performance is wholly unbelievable. He phones it in. The result is a lot of irritation and an immediately forgettable product.

Both get attention, but which would you rather be? Cool and current and relevant and admired? Or somebody… well, somebody used as an unfavorable comparison?

Not that you’ll ever need more than this mental image, here’s some links to deeper research on the topic:


  1. Doug Brecht says:

    I’ve seen Rambo III, but not Clive Owen. Does it have subtitles 🙂 Green washing to me is more like Professional Wrestling back when i was a kid. They told you it was real. Remember Hulk Hogan with the open hand slap to the reporters head? Now they are transparant and admit that it is entertainment. Honorable, yes. Good for the environment, probably not. Greenwashing is so caustic that it makes you almost not want to talk about the things you are doing for fear that you will get “called out” for missing something.

    Nice comments on this blog Michael. It is a great resource.

  2. aaronfu says:

    ahaha I’ve actually never sat through a whole screening of Rambo.. but weren’t almost all blockbuster action films during those years have the same over-the-top style?

    entirely agree with doug though, sure, its fantastic that there’s a hugely active community out there writing about and ‘calling out’ companies who greenwash and report/publicize a whole bunch of activity that a) didn’t really happen b) will have no real impact on the issue.

    Part (OK, a huge part) of why firms engage in responsible behaviour is to boost the firm’s reputation, hence they should be allowed to shout about what they have done. Clive Owen may have been satisfied with saving the world but I doubt the CEOs of the world would want to discretely save the world.

    I’d rather a bragging hero that saves the world than a hero that feels he can’t do a thing as the world will come down harsh on him unless his performance is perfect.

    looked a little into Fiji Water’s ‘GreenWashing’ on EvolvingChoice here:

    • Michael says:

      When it comes to world saving, I’ll have a hard time arguing with (what I hope will be) success. While I’m sure the groups of greenwash-watchers would be humbled by the power you’ve inferred here, I think it’s the over-eager marketing teams that are tipping the balance with what is a decidedly much larger voice/budget. ‘With power comes responsibility’ and.. wait, that’s Spiderman.. sorry.. Clearly, we need strong leaders to share best practices and to help blaze the trail for others to embrace smart, responsible practices. How they share the message matters, though. At present, it seems, the louder one blows their own horn about green practices, the less people trust them. I don’t think anybody expects perfection, I just think that businesses will win loyalty faster with some sincerity and transparency in their messaging. Good stuff, though, thanks for checking in!

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