Stop the 'greenwash'

The average space devoted to environmental issues in a 1960 newspaper was just 0.4 per cent, by 1972 it had crept up to 2.8 per cent.

Even as recently as 2002, a study of eight national newspapers showed that they reported only slightly more than 200 stories on climate change in 12 months. Last year, the same group covered more than 10,150 articles.

But with such a spectacular rise in media coverage and public interest comes the issue of ‘greenwash”. This is a growing problem for the media. With the clear increase in environmental stories, companies and PR agencies are seeing an opportunity to gain editorial inclusion by attaching sometimes dubious eco-credentials and angles to their press releases.

The issue of greenwash leads to two problems. The first is ‘greenhush”, where genuine companies that deliver environmentally sound products and services become wary of publicising their true achievements for fear their work will not be delineated from those just jumping on the bandwagon.

Consumer confusion

The second problem, and probably the more important, is consumer confusion. Readers are being bombarded with conflicting messages – they just don’t know what is legitimate, what they should do for the best and who to believe.

What the UK media needs is a clear point of reference, an organisation that can steer consistent and trusted research into the public domain, promote true and worthy sustainable innovation, and begin to set the agenda with a definitive and consistent course of action.

It isn’t just the media that needs this guidance; industry also needs an end to the shifting sands of environmental policy to encourage long-term investment to fund research and development. The UK is a global leader in sustainable science and innovation. It is second only to the US in terms of research and commercialisation activities.

To cement this position, consumer confusion needs to be removed from the market and we can start by identifying and reducing greenwash. This isn’t just an editorial problem, it’s a dilemma for advertising too, as the companies that are active and strong in the sector withdraw their marketing spend.

As initiatives like the Sunday Times’ Green Lists admirably identify and recognise the companies that are making a true difference, maybe the time is arriving to compile a Greenwash List to name and shame the culprit companies and organisations. Perhaps even a register of accredited advertisers that carries an independent stamp of approval to show that a company’s claims have been scrutinised and passed.


There are three Environmental Journalism Awards recognising the best of environmental journalism: environmental journalist of the year; story of the year; and campaign of the year.

The fourth, the judges’ award, will be selected by the panel for the news organisation, publication, website or broadcaster that has made the most significant contribution to the world of environmental journalism, and carries a £1,000 cash prize.

Entries must have been published between 1 September 2007 and 31 August 2008. Entry is free. Closing date for entries is 15 September. Email for full details.

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