This site contains critiques of advertisements and ad campaigns that utilize greenwashing. UL Environment defines greenwashing as “the act of misleading consumers regarding the environmental practices of a company or the environmental benefits of a product or service.” As environmental awareness in society has increased, more demand has been placed on companies and producers to show consumers that actions are being taken to exercise a commitment to sustainability. Critically consuming environmental messages has become essential in this context, as companies and industries use green appeals to overshadow detrimental environmental impacts caused by the use and production of products and acquisition of raw materials to construct these products. In addition to identifying falsity in advertising, critical consumption is also important for consumers to identify truly green products and admirable environmental activities. The critiques here identify the strengths and weaknesses of a variety of advertisements and campaigns that use environmental appeals.
Students at St. Lawrence University enrolled in PCA 334 Environmental Communication performed these critiques after a semester of studying environmental communication. The critiques draw primarily on material from Julia Corbett’s Communicating Nature and two websites (The Sins of Greenwashing and the Greenwashing Index), which helped students with greenwashing terminology and identifying lines of questioning one might ask to critique greenwashing.
On this site, I have categorized the critiques using Corbett’s terminology for types of advertisements that use environmental appeals. These four categories include:
- Nature as Backdrop: These ads typically commodify nature, presenting it as something that can be bought and sold or using it as a setting to sell a product.
- Green Attribute Advertising: These advertisements typically tout the environmental friendliness of a particular item as a reason it should be purchased.
- Green Image Advertising: Rather than focus on a particular product, these types of advertisements attempt to establish the green ethos of a company or industry.
- Environmental Advocacy: Typically utilized by environmental advocacy groups, these advertisements tend to target specific policies or advocate specific lifestyle changes to benefit the environment.
Some of the ads contain multiple types of greenwashing appeals. In those cases, they have been categorized by their most prominent appeal.
All critiques are written for a public audience and seek to educate and encourage more critical consumption of advertising. The assignment description for those interested can be found here: Public Critique Handout.