On greenwashing


Miriam Goldberger, owner of Wildflower Farm, sent me an email with this subject:  "The height of irony or ultimate greenwashing?"

I just had to bring a most ironic piece of news from the seed
industry to your attention. Syngenta, the GMO generating mega-corporation, is proudly
building a new headquarters in Minnesota that will be LEED Gold
Certified and feature a host of Sustainable Sites Initiatives elements including
large plantings of native vegetation and minimal irrigation.  Here's the press
release – http://www.opuscorp.com/newsroom/Pages/NewsReleaseDetails.aspx?NewsID=375

I think Miriam's assessment is spot on and that greenwashing has become a standard weapon in the corporate public relations arsenal.  So it's no surprise that a PR firm specializing in this eco-deception would spring up, and Greenwashers Consulting looks like our worst nightmare. 

That is, until one eco-blogger investigated the firm and reported his findings.  He reveals that the CEO's name, Arthur Denton, was the tip-off that Greenwashers Consulting is a bit of clever satire – that's the name of the sadomasochist dentist in Little Shop of Horrors.


  1. WOW! Greenwashers has some very forceful copy on their website. I see what’s going on. They cover their chemical ridden underbelly with a a big piece of “set dressing.” Creeps!

  2. It took reading this post twice and being flabbergasted at the Greenwashing PR site to see that Greenwashing Consulting was a joke. The reason I had to mull this over is because that site represents the true corporate ethics so prevalent today. It’s not like GR hasn’t seen its own share of corporate shills ready to muddy the waters on ecological issues and put a smily face on questionable business practices.

    Now what would be interesting is for the Greenwashers to list the names of actual business firms serious about wanting their fake service.

  3. The Greenwashing Consulting website is hysterical! LOL funny! Thanks for the link. Someone really took a lot of time to put that site together and they did a great job.

    I do have a question for you, Susan. I’ve always felt that any step we can take to get people or companies to address the environment is a good step. Everyone has to start somewhere, even if it’s just adding recycling bins or replacing old fashioned light bulbs with fluorescent ones. You have to take a first step on any journey. It sounds to me like you and Miriam are being really dismissive of the steps this company is taking. I understand it is not enough in your view, but isn’t it possible that as they green up their building it might start the internal corporate consciousness on the path to a more environmentally friendly path? Isn’t it possible to appreciate their first corporate green steps while at the same time pushing for a more green product? Am I being naive here?

  4. I agree with Christopher. Small steps can often lead to a watershed of change. While it is tempting to use the rule of law or some other mechanism to force changes on the outside, it is the incremental changes on the inside that finally create real change.

    The site is pretty funny though. 🙂

  5. Every step forward is a positive one, even if made ironically. I laugh at Walmart promoting its environmentalism, too. But if they improve even a little bit, it’s worth it.

    GMO is a tool like any other, we’ve done it naturally in plants for thousands of years. It is the application of ideas that makes them good or evil, not the technology used.

  6. I view this as a positive sign that we may have passed a tipping point. I used to feel like a voice in the wilderness. I’d be the only one in the grocery store with cloth bags and so on. Now environmentalism has become mainstream and even corporations are asking themselves what they can do to at least appear environmentally responsible. (Bear in mind also that corporations are not the monoliths they appear to be from the outside, but are led by individuals with differing views.)
    I agree this is not where we’d like to be, but it is a major step along the way.

  7. Della said: “Someone really took a lot of time to put that site together and they did a great job.” I got curious about who that someone was. Turns out it’s Fred Pearce, the British author of a pretty good book I just read, “Confessions of an Eco-Sinner.”

  8. Y’all probably have a better attitude than I do about this company, and my cynicism must be showing. I’m mainly judging them by the company they keep: http://www.maca.org/jobs/
    (that’s the group that “shuddered” over the horror of Michelle Obama’s garden being organic.)

  9. I think the “Green Washing” website is more of a taunt to environmentalist to “ruffle up their feathers!” Easy prey.

    Let’s give credit to Syngenta for a step in the right direction. If we keep “demonizing” corporations even after they initiate redemptive steps, what does that reveal about us? Are we holier than them?

    Sure, they have a way to go, but let’s not throw tomatoes at them when they do the things we applaud others for doing. Redemption should be available to all.

  10. That is a hilarious website! Thank you for passing it on. But Arthur Denton is the masochistic dental customer in “Little Shop,” rather than the sadistic dentist.

  11. My own take on what is going on is at the Go Organic Gardening blog. I had a bunch of eerily related experiences this weekend. I don’t even know how to start the conversation without sounding preachy. Will take any suggestions!

    I laughed and cried at the Greenwashing websites.

  12. Judging by some of the comments here, it looks like greenwashing is a good tactic.

    For the record, GMO and natural hybridization are NOT two versions of the same practice.

    You show me how you can naturally cross a fish with a tomato so the plant produces antifreeze, and then I’ll concede your point.

    As for Wildflower Farm, this e-mail is a form of “greenwashing” also. All they ship is seed — that live plant listing on their Web site is nice wallpaper and nothing more, as they don’t ship live plants.

    (Dead plants, though, they will ship — I know. I got $120 worth of them a couple of years ago.)

  13. I loved the website. As a marketing communications practitioner, the spoof was immediately apparent to me. It is really well done. Sort of a “micro-Onion” — and look how upset some folks still get when they hear “news” passed on from THAT media outlet 😉

    We who espouse green living occasionally suffer from a surfeit of earnestness. I for one thought the Greenwashers site was a hoot!

  14. Firefly: Do people still really believe that rumor about the fish-tomato? The only GM tomato ever in production used an antisense gene, so no new genetic material would have been expressed.

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