Greenwashing!

Welcome to Earth Day 2021. What are marketers bringing us now?

Image courtesy Michael Mabry

BP, the Biggest Polluter?

No company has come under fire more than BP. Created by the 1998 merger of British Petroleum, Amoco, Atlantic Richfield, and Burmah Castrol, BP was singled out for spending $7 million on its brand identity — the green sunburst now seen everywhere — designed by Landor Associates, and for spending $25 million every quarter for replacing all the signage and for advertising the ‘transformation.’

Tobacco, the biggest smokescreen.

In 1998, the tobacco industry agreed to a $368 billion settlement in the liability lawsuits for wrongful deaths due to cigarette smoking. Tobacco companies were forced to compensate states and class-action plaintiffs for up to $15 billion a year for treating smoking-related diseases; to pay $60 billion in punitive damages for the industry’s deception about the dangers of smoking; and to fund antismoking education campaigns.

The conflict.

Wouldn’t almost every designer love to work on long-term, big-bucks, global programs like the BP rebranding? Or get a contract to help maintain “the external expressions of the brand,” like the pristine white and green oil tanks and trucks pictured in design-school textbooks and awards annuals.

Antismoking newsletter designed by Visual Language LLC. Luke Lion character and illustrations by George Toomer.

Some things have gotten better.

The Times editorial helped turn an activist movement into a public avalanche. Everyone clamored for green energy and natural foods and beauty products that didn’t contain harmful chemicals. And just about every company began to realize that being green is not only good for the planet, it’s great for business.

NuTonomy’s self-driving electric car being developed for Lyft.

The worst offenders have barely budged.

In 2019, BP launched its first global ad campaign since the 2010 explosion at its Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, which caused the largest marine oil spill in history. The “We See Possibilities Everywhere” campaign aims to showcase BP’s efforts to embrace clean energy and increase energy production while lowering emissions.

How are we doing on Earth Day, today?

Corporate Accountability, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to “advance justice in the areas of water, climate, food, tobacco and democracy,” asks this: “What comes to mind when you imagine celebrating Earth Day this year? Paying a premium price for a case of Nestlés Eco-Shape water bottles? Drinking ‘sustainably sourced’ coffee from McDonald’s McCafé menu? Probably not.”

My career is designing and writing about design. Here, I can write about lots of things. My short fiction attempts to capture and evoke past moments in time.

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