The Greenwashing of America

To attack the corporate buyout of Earth Day 1990 is somewhat like shooting at a house with a BB gun. It's an easy target. Many U.S. mega-corporations were none-too-subtle in their attempts to have their names and logos attached to anything that was worn, watched, eaten, or heard by the Americans who went outdoors on April 22 to clean up a little plot of God's creation.

Most people saw the irony in it all. Some corporations spent more money advertising their commitment to the environment than they did on improving the environment. You couldn't find an unopened can of green paint anywhere on Madison Avenue.

Recently at a conference for alternative press people and environmental activists sponsored by The Utne Reader, much of the discussion centered around the effects of corporate involvement with environmental organizations: Who gains? What is lost? One presenter, A.J. Grant, president of Environmental Communications Associates, Inc., convinced Burger King executives, whose annual advertising budget is $215 million, to use $7 million of it to demonstrate their commitment to the environment. In this way they would be encouraging others to be concerned, she thought, while still serving their own needs. But is that the best use of $7 million for the environment?

The American Petroleum Institute spent some of its cash on a half-page ad in The Washington Post explaining why the Clean Air Act's gentle encouragement of ethanol is "An Environmental Frankenstein." The API advertisement begins, "We want cleaner air. So do all Americans." That's as convincing of their environmental sensitivity as the ad in Newsweek by the U.S. Council for Energy Awareness which informed readers that "every day is Earth Day with nuclear energy."

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