“GE Is Trying to Greenwash…” New York Times Advertisement
Client: Market Forces
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the following article are my own, and not those of Market Forces, its affiliates, or employees.
Market Forces is an environmental campaigning organisation that primarily focuses on the sources of finance for environmentally destructive projects. Its mission of seeking to divert finance from environmentally destructive projects to environmentally sustainable ones is summed up by its positioning statement of “your money as a force for good.” The Market Forces head office is based in Melbourne, and it has been running incredibly successful environmental campaigns ever since they were founded in 2013. This makes 2023 a full decade since the organisation was founded, and I am grateful to have been working with them since the very beginning, designing many of their campaign materials over that time.
“I designed the visual identity for the campaign, which was based on a hand-drawn version of the GE logo that had been turned into a coal-fired power station tower, with the words ‘Get Out of Coal‘ contained in an arrow graphic device next to it.”
One company that has been a target of Market Forces’ campaign work is General Electric (GE). In 2020, Market Forces ran the “GE: Get Out of Coal” campaign, since at the time GE was involved in the construction of 19 new coal-fired power stations. One of these coal-fired power stations was the controversial Vung Ang 2 project in Vietnam. I designed the visual identity for the campaign, which was based on a hand-drawn version of the GE logo that had been turned into a coal-fired power station tower, with the words “Get Out of Coal” contained in an arrow graphic device next to it. The type used was a hand-drawn version of GE’s corporate typeface, GE Inspira. I also designed other campaign graphics, digital advertisements, and the user interface of the website for the campaign. The campaign launched with an open letter to the CEO of GE, Larry Culp, signed by 65 civil society organisations from around the world, calling on GE to get out of coal. And on 2 March, journalist Shashank Bengali at the Los Angeles Times broke the story about the campaign after having visited the site of the proposed Vung Ang 2 project. In May, during the month of GE’s AGM, community members from where GE’s proposed coal power station projects were located, sent messages to GE using social media, telling them to get out of coal. And then in September, the campaign was won when GE announced that it plans to stop providing equipment for new coal-fired power stations. This meant that GE would no longer be involved in the controversial Vung Ang 2 project, however there was still uncertainty about what it would mean for some of the other proposed coal projects.
“…the new name, GE Vernova, is intended to mean ‘new green,’ and this is emphasised by its new ‘evergreen’ corporate colour…”
More recently, in November of 2021, GE announced that it would be splitting itself into three separate companies. These are GE Aerospace, GE HealthCare, and GE Vernova. GE Aerospace will continue to be run by Larry Culp, and be what is essentially the remaining core of GE. It will maintain ownership of the GE trademark, which will be licensed out to the other companies. The focus of its business will be aviation, and it will use a much darker version of GE’s previous blue corporate colour. GE HealthCare is being ran by Peter Arduini, and in 2023, as its name suggests, has taken control of GE’s health-related businesses. It is using a new purple corporate colour to distinguish itself from its former integration with GE. GE Vernova will be run by Scott Strazik, and is taking control of GE’s energy-related businesses in 2024. The company has stated that the new name, Vernova, is a combination of “ver”—that is derived from the words verde/verdant—and “nova.” Verde/verdant are words that mean the green colour of grass and other vegetation. And nova is derived from the Latin word “novus,” and means new, and is supposed to be symbolic of GE’s new direction and embracement of new technologies. This suggests that the new name is intended to mean “new green,” and this is emphasised by its new “evergreen” corporate colour, which is also used to distinguish itself from GE. However, it has also been noted that separately pronouncing the three syllables (i.e., “ver,” “no,” and “va”) of the new name also means “see, it doesn’t go” in Spanish, which may be a more accurate interpretation of the new name, given the information that is about to follow…
“The brief was to highlight this incongruity between GE’s marketing and its actions, by visually depicting GE trying to turn its fossil gas infrastructure expansion into something ‘new’ and ‘green’.”
In line with its “new green” name and “evergreen” corporate colour, GE Vernova is trying to position itself as being green and “fully focused on the energy transition” to address the climate crisis, since it is “an urgent global priority.” While this all sounds like a welcome change in direction for GE, it flies in the face of the significant scale of the Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) projects that GE has been reported to be involved in. This is because LNG is just another dirty fossil fuel that will worsen the climate crisis, which makes GE Vernova’s new green marketing pure greenwashing, given GE’s involvement in these projects. Market Forces reached out to me to design them an advertisement that would help them get GE’s attention. The brief was to highlight this incongruity between GE’s marketing and its actions, by visually depicting GE trying to turn its fossil gas infrastructure expansion into something “new” and “green.”
The headline of the final advertisement was “GE is trying to greenwash its fossil gas expansion” and it pictured an illustration of a person in a hazmat suit (with “greenwash unit” written on its chest) spray painting some LNG storage tanks with GE Vernova’s new “evergreen” corporate colour. Underneath the incomplete paint job you can faintly see GE’s blue logo. This was done for two reasons. Firstly, to partially show GE’s logo in the advertisement in a way that it is only subtle and would avoid legal issues (such as copyright/trademark infringement). And secondly, to suggest that GE hasn’t fundamentally changed, and that GE Vernova is just a re-marketed version of GE (by depicting GE’s logo and fossil fuel infrastructure simply being painted over). In the background are the ominous gas-flaring towers of LNG power plants, and in the foreground are the bones of dead fish to subtly reference the consequences of using fossil fuels like LNG, in terms of the climate impacts such as flooding and rising sea levels, as well as the many other impacts on wildlife.
The body copy of the advertisement read:
General Electric (GE) is trying to position its new energy spinoff, GE Vernova, as green and climate friendly.
Yet, in Bangladesh and Vietnam, GE is reported to be involved in almost 25 gigawatts of new Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) power projects.* In the Chattogram region of Bangladesh alone, LNG power projects with GE involvement would pump the equivalent of about 430 million tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, almost double the annual emissions of Bangladesh!* This makes GE’s new green marketing pure greenwash.
If GE actually wants to be green, it needs to scrap its plans to build new fossil gas projects.
“It seems clear to me that it would have been embarrassing for the NYT (and GE) to run an advertisement that exposes GE’s greenwashing in the very same week that the NYT and GE had been partnering up for such a big event...”
The advertisement was originally discussed as running in the New York Times (NYT) in the week beginning on Monday 5 December. However, when the artwork was submitted, the NYT indicated that publication would be preferable in January. When it came to Tuesday 6 December, it was discovered that GE had bought the advertising space for the entire NYT newspaper (which was over two dozen ads) for that day, in what was the first time there had been a single advertiser takeover in the 171 year history of the publication. And on the evening prior, top executives from both GE and the NYT had met together in Queens at the NYT’s primary printing press to watch the newspaper as it was printed. It seems clear to me that it would have been embarrassing for the NYT (and GE) to run an advertisement that exposes GE’s greenwashing in the very same week that the NYT and GE had been partnering up for such a big event, which could at least partly explain the NYT’s desire to delay the advertisement as much as possible.
Despite this setback, the “GE Is Trying to Greenwash…” advertisement ended up being approved to run, and appeared in the NYT on Tuesday 24 January, when it was sent out to its 740,000 paid print subscribers, and seen by the many thousands of others who read the newspaper, along with its digital news channels. The Market Forces team and I are now looking forward to hearing how GE responds to having its plans to build new fossil gas projects exposed, and in the very same newspaper that it bought out in the month prior!
It was a pleasure to work on this project with Bernadette Maheandiran, Binbin Mariana, and the Market Forces team. I can only hope that exposing GE’s greenwashing to such an extensive audience leads to GE changing its policies and direction, and that GE Vernova ends up aligning itself with its own green image, by scrapping its plans to build new fossil gas projects.
Find out more about GE’s involvement in fossil gas projects: marketforces.net/ge/
Director, Asia Climate & Energy (Project Manager): Bernadette Maheandiran, Market Forces.
Indonesia Coal Finance Campaigner: Binbin Mariana, Market Forces.
Illustration: Cameron Pearce, OJO Creative.
Art direction & Design: Jarren Nylund, Design Good Design Studio.