A few weeks ago, we published an article exposing a serious piece of greenwash that ran in the Washington Post in early June. Southern Company, a notoriously high carbon dioxide emitter and avid opponent of clean energy solutions, ran this half-page advertisement, promoting the idea of “clean coal.”
We analyzed the advertisement, its falsities, as well as its long history of promoting unsustainable, environmental practices.
After becoming familiar with this ad’s little cartoon sketch and the message that it is “common sense” not to eliminate coal, when we discovered ads with similar features, we knew that they were additions to this company’s greenwashing archive.
Wrapped around the most recent July/August edition of Smithsonian Magazine was a two-page pamphlet with four Southern Company advertisements. At the top of the first page, the Smithsonian masthead is printed, so that the wrapper actually resembles a part of the magazine. Three of the ads are different versions of the original that we first saw in the Post, which was also re-printed in the wrapper as well.
They all have similar cartoon illustrations, and their messages are also based around the idea of “common sense.
The wrapper reveals that the one ad we caught in the Post is actually linked to a series of greenwashing advertisements and an entire campaign constructed by the company. See here for more information.
While all of these advertisements in the Smithsonian wrapper make a variety of different claims, one of the four is highlighted below.
Similar to the first ad in the Post, here Southern Company again states that it is working on the first zero-emissions coal-fired generating plant and writes that “common sense says to reduce our dependence on foreign energy” we must “use what’s under our own feet.” To complement and emphasize this statement, the picture shows a figure plugging a cord into an outlet situated on a map of the United States. Under the illustration is the statement, “The United States has a 200-year supply of coal.”
With this ad, the company sends the message that we should use America’s coal supply, (under our feet,) to power the country, and makes claims that using coal could become a zero-emissions process.
But their message is clearly false and irresponsible. Clean coal is only a myth: an idea created by industry. The fact is that coal is actually the largest source of mercury pollution in the United States and has left both air and water across the country irreversibly damaged and polluted.
Additionally, the statement that the U.S. has a 200-year supply of coal, further demonstrates that it is not a long-term or sustainable solution for the future. It will run out, and it will destroy the environment everyday until it does.
Another advertisement in the wrapper promotes the idea of using multiple energy sources. It’s text reads: “Common sense says don’t use just one,” and the illustration now shows the figure pushing a wheelbarrow full of symbols used to represent wind, nuclear, coal and switchgrass. Southern Company says that it has conducted $400 million in research on these different sources.
However, when considering the fact that the company serves approximately 4.3 million customers on nearly only coal, it’s hard to believe that it would truly be focusing on renewable or clean sources.
Additionally, Southern Company shows its support for nuclear power in this advertisement, a practice that will never be safe or clean; a practice that puts both the environment and human health at serious risk.
It’s clear that Southern Company has been working hard to get the public to believe that they care about the future of energy in this country. In fact, advertising in the Smithsonian magazine in particular, was probably strategic.
The company wants its message to reach the elite; people with power; people who can support the company and it’s endeavors; people like the readership of Smithsonian Magazine. According to the magazine’s 2010 Reader Profile, most of its readers are professionals and managers, wealthy, own a home, are married and college educated. The median household income of a 2010 Smithsonian reader is $71,917. Thirty five percent of the audience holds a professional or managerial position and 80% own a home.
Additionally, the advertising wrapper went out to only the DC market of the magazine, a place where the most influential subscribers would most likely live. According to an advertising representative from Smithsonian, the wrapper cost the company approximately $150,000.
Southern Company’s advertising strategy was not at all random. They were clearly targeting certain individuals that they believed would have power.
But implementing a clever and catchy campaign that includes cute illustrations doesn’t make their intentions or claims valid and/or truthful. After learning about who this company really is, “common sense says” they shouldn’t be trusted.
In any field, there are major players who stand out. Each industry has certain companies that everyone simply knows by name. They are often the largest or wealthiest, and they almost always dominate the rest. Considering this, when it comes to coal, Southern Company is infamous. It is the eighth largest utility company in the world and the second largest in the United States, getting the majority of its energy supply from coal. But the company also gets a significant amount of its notoriety from its many other crooked practices. Greenpeace has long investigated Southern Company for funding Senators like Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who has worked to overturn the EPA’s authority on the Clean Air Act, and the company’s legacy of dedicating effort and money to prevent other clean energy futures as well.
See here for Greenpeace’s effort to publicize Lisa Murkowski’s connections to companies such as Southern Company, Exxon and Chevron.
Southern Company is among the top five highest carbon dioxide emitting power companies in the world, according to Carbon Monitoring for Action. In 2006, one of the company’s subsidiaries was sued for violating the Clean Air Act and another of it’s plants in Georgia is facing environmental justice issues for being too close to residencies.
Given these facts, when we saw that Southern Company had bought a half page ad in the Washington Post earlier this month depicting a cartoon figure holding a chunk of green colored coal, it seemed a little suspicious. It seemed like greenwashing. The ad claims that Southern Company is “working toward building the world’s first zero-emissions, coal-fired generating plant” and “is spending $3.9 billion over the next three years to lower coal emissions.” But the message is hard to believe when considering the true nature of this company. In fact, it’s a 360-degree turn around from what has traditionally defined the company.
One underlying message clearly depicted in the ad is the idea of Carbon, Capture and Storage to create the so-called “zero emissions” plant. CCS is a process of capturing and then storing CO2 from point sources, such as coal-fired power plants, underground. The company alludes to this process in the advertisement with the statement, “..if you’re looking for the best energy solution, start with what’s under your feet.”
But CCS is not any kind of proven solution to take care of CO2. In fact, Greenpeace believes it actually fosters the dependence on fossil fuels.
Another prominent theme in this ad is “common sense.” It states at the top, “Common sense says don’t eliminate what you can make cleaner,” and toward the bottom reads “powered by common sense.” However, knowing about this company’s history and the science behind coal, it seems more sensible to say that there isn’t any truth to this ad.
The background of this company makes this advertisement a perfect example of greenwashing and any efforts they claim to have toward clean energy null and void. They are a coal company and revolve around something that will never be clean or safe.
Green coal will always exist only in the mind of a sketch artist; Never in reality and especially not from a group like Southern Company.
CEOs for some of the world's largest coal companies testified before the House Select Comittee on Energy Independence and Global Warming on April 14th, and it was quite a show.
There was plenty of predictable hype and misniformation about Carbon Capture and Sequestration, as the coal CEOs demanded more taxpayer dollars to pursue the myth of "clean coal" while ignoring all the reasons why CCS is a dangerous distraction from real clean energy solutions.
The real action came when youth activists confronted the coal CEOs with lumps of coal and blackened hands to show everyone in the hearing room that despite the industry's lobbying and propaganda, young people know that coal is dirty, and has no role in our clean energy future.
I hope that the efforts of the youth activists to challenge the coal CEOs with their dangerous and dirty fuel reminded the policymakers in the room and beyond who is behind the efforts to block solutions to climate change, and that young people will not sit quietly while our future is treated as though it were just another bargaining chip between polluter lobbyists and Congress.
The action was also captured by CNN:
Another interesting part of the hearing came when Chairman Ed Markey asked Gregory Boyce, the CEO of Peabody Coal, about his company's efforts to block the EPA's ability to protect the public's health and safety by cutting global warming pollution under the Clean Air Act. Congressman Markey pointed out that Peabody Coal explicitly states in their petition,
"Peabody’s petition is based primarily on the release of email and other information from the University of East Anglia (“UEA”) Climatic Research Unit (“CRU”) in November of last year."
Chairman Markey then asked the coal CEOs if their companies will now back away from their efforts to block the EPA's endangerment finding since the British House of Commons cleared the scientists of any wrongdoing.Of course, the responses from the coal CEOS just reinforced that the efforts of polluting industries to undermine the Clean Air Act is really about protecting their profits at the expense of the planet and public health, and they will continue to use fake scandals to push their polluter agenda.
UPDATE: check out the video of the action and some selections form the hearing
When we launched Polluterharmony, we wanted to be sure that the new online dating service for polluters, lobbyists, and politicians reached those who need it most; all those lonely legislators looking for their very own match. What better way to reach them than Politico.com?
As it turned out, Polluterharmony has been a hit, quickly becoming the #1 matchmaking site for polluters, industry lobbyists, and politicians! It's great that more public officials have had a chance to learn about this exciting new service, but we want to be sure that it's not just other Senators that know about Senator Murkowski's close relationship with polluter lobbyists. Her constituents deserve to know too! So to help get the word out, this week we launched ads on NBC affiliates in Alaska.
And the video is also getting attention on Capitol Hill, as Anne Mulkerne reports in her NYTimes/Greenwire article:
Greenpeace and Sen. Lisa Murkowski's office are in a battle of words over her effort to block U.S. EPA from regulating greenhouse gases.
An aide to the Alaska Republican condemned Greenpeace yesterday after PolluterWatch, a project of the environmental group, launched a Web site called PolluterHarmony.com, a take-off on the matchmaking site eHarmony.com.
"If she objects to the scrutiny her conduct has received, she should consider putting her constituents ahead of Washington lobbyists," Davies said. "Until then, we will continue to hold her accountable for her close ties to influence peddlers like Jeffrey Holmstead."
News reports earlier this year revealed that Holmstead, an industry lawyer who served in the George W. Bush administration, advised Murkowski's office on a failed amendment last year to block EPA regulations. Environmentalists have pointed to Holmstead's involvement as a signal that Murkowski is working on behalf of industry interests, but the Alaska senator has said her staff consulted a variety of outside experts, including environmentalists and Republican and Democratic lawmakers, when drafting that amendment.It's great that more public officials and lobbyists for coal and oil companies might now get a chance to learn about Polluterharmony, so they too might find a match made in Washington. Happy Valentines Weekend!
Kert Davies, Greenpeace Research Director and the Director of our Polluterwatch project, sent a letter today calling on Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND) to come clean about his post Senate plans. Senator Dorgan announced earlier this month that he would be retiring from the Senate at the end of the year, and that afterward he would like to "work on energy policy in the private sector."
As Davies writes in the letter;
As a longtime member of Congress I am sure you are aware that, regardless of your actual intentions, this language is often code for legislators who have begun trolling for an influence peddling job after they leave Congress. And, the path from public servant to influence peddler is a sadly well-worn one: Rep. Bob Livingston, Senator John Breaux, Rep. Billy Tauzin, and Senator Trent Lott.
I recall seeing you as a speaker at the oil industry’s controversial, pay-to-play forum on December 1st, just five weeks before you announced your retirement. As you will recall, this highly questionable exercise was one in which Newsweek was caught renting out its name, credibility and top pundit to big oil’s influence peddler, Jack Gerard. We were able to document Mr. Gerard’s unwillingness to answer basic questions about the purchase price of Newsweek’s credibility, and you can see the results at youtube.com/polluterwatch.
Indeed, Senator Dorgan was the lone senator appearing beside American Petroleum Institute CEO Jack Gerard at the API sponsored Newsweek "Energy Forum," as shown in the photo below from that event. Greenpeace called on the Senate Ethics Committee to investigate the Big Oil sponsored panel held inside the US capitol.
Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND) appears with American Petroleum Institute CEO Jack Gerard at the API sponsored Newsweek "Energy Forum"
Greenpeace is calling on Senator Dorgan to:
You can read the full text of the letter to Senator Dorgan here.
This week, Planet Green's Focus Earth program airs an episode on greenwash. In the episode Bob Woodruff interviews environmental and corporate watchdog expert Kenny Bruno, author of Greenwash and Corporate Environmentalism, and myself from Greenpeace, to answer the question: are corporate green efforts for show only, or can they actually make amends for decades of un-sustainable, even downright harmful, business choices? Woodfuff also gets up close with leaders from Royal Dutch Shell, Ford Motor Company and Duke Energy to examine their environmental statements and actions.
Dan Weiss of the Center for American Progress looked into this and reported that:
" Duke Energy is not alone. It is a member of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity—a front group of 48 big coal, utility, and other companies—which has already spent gobs of money on advertising, but invested little in the development of CCS technology. Like Duke, ACCCE’s other member companies are much more committed to the idea of clean coal than investing to make it a reality—as their research budgets demonstrate. An analysis of their investments found that they spent less than two cents in research on “clean coal” for every $1 of profit. And even though new legislation would fund technology to make clean coal a reality, ACCCE has yet to show any support for it."
Weiss' analysis of current CCS projects does list Duke as a participant in three CCS research projects, however Rogers comments would lead us to believe that this participation is minimal.
The legislation referenced by Wiess is the "America Clean Energy and Security Act" sponsored by Reps Henry Waxman Ed Markey which offers huge subsidies to CCS research and development. Sounds to me like Rogers and ACCCE are waiting on the government to invest taxpayer dollars before they will shell out any green.
So what are Duke and other ACCCE members willing to spend their money on? ACCCE has a communications budget for 2009 of $40 million. Right, and lets not forget the $9.9 million spent last year on lobbyists. Oh- and the combined $15.6 million spent by ACCCE member firms to federal campaigns.
So the question that remains unanswered is, if Jim Rogers won't invest in CCS why should the US taxpayers?
Not too long ago, Stop Greenwash dissected a stellar bit of greenwash from Peabody Energy, one of the world's largest coal companies. We examined their methods and broke apart their lies, but we never really codified the system that the coal industry used to coopt the environmental movement.
Luckily, a leaked memo from the President of the ACCCE to the CEO of Peabody Energy does just that:
"More than a year ago, New York Governor Pataki proposed an eleven-state regional CO2 cap and trade program. CEED has been engaged in this effort from its beginning. Persuading Pennsylvania and Maryland (as major coal-consuming states) to stay on the sidelines, rather than signing onto this initiative, has been one element of our strategy. The other element is to pose voluntary sequestration and technology as the correct policy, rather than mandatory controls."
"Our strategy in dealing with mercury has been two-fold: prevent states from taking precipitous or unwarranted action to regulate mercury and engage in the federal rulemaking to protect the interests of coal-based electricity."
are just two of the choice quotes from the memo. You can read the whole thing if you want, but beware: any doubts you held as to whether or not these clean coal advertising campaigns were a blatant attempt to manipulate public discourse and interfere with global warming initiatives, well...yeah.
The last paragraph of the ad reads:
“Producing more. Conserving more. Improving farmers’ lives. That’s sustainable agriculture. And that’s what Monsanto is all about.”
Is this the same Monsanto that manufactured Agent Orange?
Does “improving farmers’ lives” include forcing genetically modified crops on farmers, and leaving them to suffer when those crops fail?
Or suing farmers when Monsanto’s GM crops mix with other crops?
Listing Monsanto’s offensives against farmers and agriculture the world over would take more time than Monsanto is worth; but the presence of Monsanto in the ineptly titled “Environmental Leadership” demonstrates how thoroughly these green sections of the newspaper are vehicles for greenwash. Though most of the articles are, in fact, by CEOs promoting their company’s boutique green project, even they don’t take up as much space as, for instance, Lockheed Martin’s jump onto the greenwash:
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Used to describe the act of misleading consumers regarding the environmental practices of a company or the environmental benefits of a product or service.