More Greenwash from CBS Eco-Ads

“We are talking about a for-profit program that’s primary value (to the advertiser) is derived by including a “digital green leaf” on an ad and that uses privately held criteria, that receives funding from the sale of the products and that is potentially confusing to consumers.”


So, I want to start by saying that Paul Polizzotto,who among other things was named one of’s Top Ecopreneurs of 2008 and is founder of EcoMedia which was bought by CBS less than a year ago, is a man with a solid and laudable mission. I would like nothing more than to see this program succeed and become a model for the entire advertising industry.  So, let’s start with what’s right about the Eco-Ad program that launched this week:

  1. Money from the sales of an ad in the program goes to funding environmental projects in a community; (Paul mentioned 10% in a lengthy call with him yesterday.)
  2. They are donating money to credible and experienced environmental organizations.
  3. They claim a 10:1 leverage – where every dollar of advertising is creating 10$ (?) dollars worth of environmental benefit.
  4. They assert that only companies that have proven environmental, social, and governance  performance will be approved.

All good.  I think the mission is terrific. We should do everything we can to funnel corporate advertising dollars to environmental projects.  We should do everything we can to compel companies to engage in CSR when they otherwise wouldn’t (that’s really what this is at it’s core). Right on!

But here’s the problem: Knowingly or not, the CBS Eco-Ad program is another eco-label. CBS themselves call it a “visual digital leaf.” It’s the unintended consequences of the program that are so damning.

So what’s wrong with this ecolabel? (A division of the Consumer Reports) offers this:

Generally, the best eco-labels are seals or logos indicating that an independent organization has verified that a product meets a set of meaningful and consistent standards for environmental protection and/or social justice. In specific:

Meaningful and verifiable: Eco-labels should have a set of environmentally meaningful standards. 

Consistent and clear: An eco-label used on one product should have the same meaning if used on other products.

Transparency: The organization behind an eco-label should make information about organizational structure, funding, board of directors, and certification standards available to the public.

Independent and protected from conflict of interest: Organizations establishing standards and deciding who can use a logo should not have any ties to, and should not receive any funding from the sale of certified products or contributions from logo users beyond fees for certification.

Opportunities for public comment: All certification standards should be developed with input from multiple stakeholders including consumers, industry, environmentalists and social representatives in a way that doesn’t compromise the independence of the certifier.

And, according to the FTC:

Eco-Seals, Seals-of-Approval and Certifications:
Environmental seals-of-approval, eco-seals and certifications from third-party organizations imply that a product is environmentally superior to other products. Because such broad claims are difficult to substantiate, seals-of-approval should be accompanied by information that explains the basis for the award. If the seal-of-approval implies that a third party has certified the product, the certifying party must be truly independent from the advertiser and must have professional expertise in the area that is being certified.

The CBS EcoAd program, which is selling to its advertiser the digital green leaf/environmental seal of approval fails in a variety of ways:

  1. EcoAds are not accompanied by information that explains the basis for the award; CBS asserts that a media campaign to educate consumers about the basis of the award is sufficient to avoid consumer confusion. I showed the promo ad three times to my MBA students and they was a general confusion as to whether they ads were portraying a green ad, a green product or a green company.
  2. CBS is not making information about organizational structure, funding, board of directors, and certification standards available to the public. CBS sent me off-the -record benchmarks they use to evaluate a company’s environmental, social, and governance performance; BUT, and here’s the kicker, they explicitly reserve the right to evaluate any company that does not meets its stated benchmarks and sell them ads anyhow. This is how, for example, PG&E and Chevy made the cut. Doesn’t sound ‘truly independent’ to me.
  3. The program is not protected from conflict of interest. Nothing to say here.

Eco-Ad’s response:

“EcoAd service is not a label.”

Hmm…looks like a eco-seal to me…

So, really, you decide.  We are talking about a for-profit corporate ad buy program that’s primary value (to the advertiser) is derived by including a “digital green leaf”  and that uses privately held criteria, receives funding from the sale of the products and is that is potentially confusing to consumers. Greenwash or not?

Photo: Watchwithkristen 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 .
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  • In America and with Americans we have a problem.

    The modern media as we know has been in place since
    the explosion of the automobile which coincided with the
    development of the roads.

    Today we argue as idiots, command economy, market economy, government intervention, no government intervention and so forth.

    For decades, perhaps five, we have had the green revolution, power to the people, gas wars, and wars this and that. In the end we did what the government told us to do. Yes we drove our cars from detroit, who also built the tanks, that we have pride in. As we search for the next war.

    So what is my point?

    Until the government, or more precisely the folks in the lobby decide we are going to be modern nation.

    We will continue this media driven for “K street” approach.

    For the time being it wouldn’t hurt to explain a few things to the general population as they flounder.

    Such as what does “ECO,” “LOHAS,” and “CSR” mean.

    I still haven’t made a point and thats been the point

    for fifty years.

    The lastest stupid distraction is about
    the right to have arms against a tyranical government.

    I still don’t make a point.

    “let them eat cake”

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