Greenwash Alert: CBS Eco-Ads

Environmental Leader reported today that CBS will be giving a stamp of approval, an “EcoAd” visual “digital” leaf on TV commercials, to its ‘eco-friendly’ TV advertisers. The pitch is that every time an advertiser buys an EcoAd package, a portion of the price will fund projects that public bodies have identified as critical yet underfunded.

Another eco-label? Ugh. Aren’t consumers confused enough about eco-labels?

All sounds good, but this begs the question: What are the criteria by which an advertiser earns the right to participate in the ‘Eco-Ad” program? And who’s providing oversight? Apparently, the EcoAd leaf is available to all TV sponsors. And some notorious greenwashers are already on CBS’s list of launch advertisers like ChevySafeway and PG&E.

Apparently it doesn’t matter if a company is an egregious polluter or spends tons of cash lobbying against environmental laws and regulations (two of several greenwash criteria as put forth in the 7 Sins of Greenwash and Greenpeace’s Greenwash Criteria). As long as they buy into the CBS program, they are now ‘environmentally friendly’?

Who gets hurt beside consumers? Real eco-entrepreneurs who cannot afford big ad buys on CBS. Eco-labels that can be bought for the price of a TV ad threaten to further erode consumer confidence and diminish the value of legitimate environmental practices.

I’m all for funneling money to environmental projects and giving companies that do so credit.  But, CBS needs to have criteria for who participates in their Eco-Ad program or it just more greenwash.

A promo for the seal aired on the CBS television network yesterday, and can be seen at

Photo: davidgljay at

About the Author

Jennifer Kaplan writes regularly about sustainable food and wine, the intersection of food and marketing and food politics for and is the author of Greening Your Small Business (November 2009, Penguin Group (USA)). She was been named one of The 16 Women You Must Follow on Twitter for Green Business. She has four kids, a dog, a hamster and an MBA - find her on .
  • You couldn’t be more wrong on all the facts. If you have any interest in finding out the real situation, please e-mail me at

    Shannon Jacobs
    CBS Communications

    • It would be great if you could respond with “the real situation” here, in public, rather than asking for a private conversation with the author. If you can’d defend your policies in public, why even have PR?

  • Hi Shannon. I’d love to talk with Paul and I’d love to be proven wrong. I’ll follow-up by e-mail.

    Readers: Hang tight for an update!

  • Interesting post. I agree that many companies are “greenwashing” more than ever now because it is the new “trend” and I don’t believe that most managers that are leading the green movement in companies are at all educated in sustainability. CBS needs more criteria to decide if a company can qualify for being “green.” However, I believe this will be another time when the large companies that can actually pay for air time will dominate without really proving themselves. I’m looking forward to your next post after more information becomes available to you from CBS.

  • Very interesting post on greenwashing. I agree with Julia that greenwashing is a trend and most managers supporting sustainability do not fully understand what it is. In particular, the impact of sustainability on environment, industries, companies, consumers and so on. What alternatives are there for advertisers to contribute to underfunded projects without undermining eco intentions? Also, what are some examples of recommended criteria for CBS’s Eco-Ad program?

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  • Okay… so why is Chevy a greenwasher? Why is PG&E a greenwasher? What criteria are you using? What evidence do you have that CBS is blindly accepting these people? You’re making a lot of assumptions here without much evidence!

    • Dr Fish House— Greenpeace and Terrachoice, the watchdogs for greenwash, both name Chevy and PG&E as greenwashers. Lots of others too. If you read my follow-up post (, I spoke with the President of EcoMedia, who is responsible for the EcoAd program. He sent me the standards and told me himself how they ‘evaluate’ advertisers. Its not a blind process at all, just a very lax and subjective one. That doesn’t cut it for an ecolabel.

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  • As a company that really likes the Ecoads concept and one that is trying to prove that the advertising industry is involved in the discussion of sustainability (how has such a big and influential industry managed to duck under the radar especially given that it is so perfectly poised to contribute), I understand both sides of the arguement.
    Our experience with sustainability and advertisers is that many are simply afraid to take the steps towards being more responsible for two main reasons; they are either too large to really be able to change as quickly as the public are demanding or worse, when they do make a first step, the sustainable community, who you would think would be encouraging any progress, is the first to attack them for not going far enough! Which raises the question, is the sustainable community helping or hurting the very cause we are so dedicated to? We are social media savvy, often highly educated, passionate and not afraid of ruffling a few feathers- all good things but if the result is that companies will not take any steps forward as they are then not put into the spotlight, surly this is not in our best interest.
    GreenGraffiti® is asked by people all of the time if we screen our clients. In short, do we require they pass a test before we allow them to use a more sustainable form of out of home media? Our position is that we are not GreenPeace (they play an important role mind you but pointing the finger of blame is much easier then providing a solution or an answer). We are trying to get companies to be involved- to put their toe in the water. We have learned that once they put their toe in and it doesn’t get bitten off, they are much more willing to put their whole foot in the water and then their leg. It is a process.
    Any step forward is a step in the right direction. Should we demand more? Yes we should but honey works much better then vinegar. Further more, sustainability is about much more then the environment something many people seem to forget. It is a balance between People, the planet and profit. EcoAd helps companies in their ambitions to give back or do something for the people. And profits, well that is easy, if it doesn’t at least break even, it won’t be around for long.
    So to end this rant, let’s give Ecoad a bit of credit for coming up with an easy and effective way for their clients to contribute to the very people who are tolerating their clients advertisements. At least CBS is doing something! And given a large part of their business is outdoor advertising which is not a very sustainable form of advertising, we should at least give them credit for investing what must be a mountain of money to provide this platform and making the lives of some people better.
    CBS I applaud this initiative. Is it perfect? Nope but what new thing is? Good for you! I hope the positive reactions keep you motivated and the not so nice ones keep you sharp. If nothing else all criticism should be welcomed. In our case, the best thing we ever did (setting up a water foundation was the direct result of being blasted for saying we were creating a more sustainable form of communication using only water while not fully comprehending that water is a very precious resource even though a GreenGraffiti ad uses about 20 liters of water while producing the paper for a poster of the same requires about 300 liters. To date, this “blasting” has resulted in our providing clean water to over 1,000 people for 15 years. So thanks for the criticism – it is so valuable to any business.

  • I just saw the green leaves for the first time about 20 minutes ago ( it’s 1/9/2013 by the way, so this is sort of a necro post, but I was curious as to what they were and your site popped up first with google) and I want to say that BP had a commercial with 4/8 green leaves. My attention was kind of focused elsewhere, so this was a glancing look. Anywho, 1. BP?! Really!? 2. After reading your article, I’d LOVE to know what Shannon of CBS said ( about this as there doesn’t seem to be any follow-up nor transparency from them on this.
    Is there any update on this? I read your follow up post titled “More Greenwash from CBS Eco-Ads”, but it’s now 2013 and my market in the midwest is just now seeing these little green “marks” that mean very little since CBS hasn’t came out directly to say.

    • Hi Jake,

      Like all things sustainable there are many opinions. I can’t see why an ad campaign that will give something back to the community in some fashion could possibly be so evil. Finally an out of home company is doing something other then making a big profits with few principles! My opinion is that any step forward is a step in the right direction. If we exclude companies like BP from contributing in a positive way because of what they have done in the past than the sustainable community is actually going to discourage the changes we so desperately need.
      As a community we tend to eat our own. We need to stop criticising companies for not doing enough and give them a little credit for what they are doing.
      There is no right answer on this subject, you will need to weigh it all yourself before making a decision.
      CBS Outdoor has invested a lot of their precious cash in this program and they have dedicated a lot of time as this is not new by any measure. It would be easier to just kill this program and go back to doing what the other two big outdoor media companies do which is pathetically little. Out door advertising is very unsustainable to begin with but no one really seems to be aware of this. At least they have stuck their necks out considering their business so let’s not jump the gun and just cut it off before we give it a chance! Just my thoughts though not popular ones in the sustainable community by I stick by them. (and they are my competitor to boot!)