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Greenwashing Lessons Learned

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Web Exclusive. This article is companion content for The New Language of Marketing 2.0: How to use ANGELS to Energize Your Market, by Sandy Carter. Visit ibmpressbooks.com/angels to learn more about this release and access additional bonus content.
This chapter is from the book

On April 1st, 2008, Mattel, Inc., issued a press release announcing Barbie BCause—a new collection of eco-friendly accessories for young girls. Mattel attributed the eco-friendliness with the following, “BCause collection repurposes excess fabric and trimmings from other Barbie doll fashions and products which would otherwise be discarded, offering eco-conscious girls a way to make an environmentally friendly fashion statement with cool, patchwork-style accessories.” Although seemingly altruistic in its intent, Mattel missed the mark with this product line introduction and received substantial criticism and greenwashing accusations from online consumer watchdog groups. An article in The New York Times cited comments from concerned bloggers. One stated “The eco-conscious young girls I know steer clear of Barbie... truly green families will not be fooled by Mattel’s greenwashing.” Another blogger commented, “[The announcement] is pretty ironic given that Barbie dolls are made out of plastic and are packaged in even more plastic...and not the kind of plastic you can throw into the recycling bin either.”

In January 2008, the United Kingdom’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) found that the Malaysian Palm Oil Council was guilty of misleading the general public with claims that the industry itself is good for the environment. The ASA is “an independent body set up by the advertising industry to police the rules laid down in the advertising codes.” In an ad within the series, a man is shown jogging though a rain forest with intermittent images of palm oil plantations and wildlife, with the voice-over declaring, “Malaysia palm oil. Its trees give life and help our planet breathe.” The misleading aspect is that palm oil plantations have a notorious reputation for being started in “illegally cleared natural rain forests.” Moreover, according to an article in The Wall Street Journal,” In neighboring Indonesia, where Malaysian palm-oil companies own large operations, plantation development is destroying the natural habitat of species such as the Sumatran elephant....”

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