THE BLOG

The Corporate "Green Olympics": Sponsors Use Green Messaging in Their Pavilions

Sep 19, 2008 | Updated May 25, 2011

If Beijing were to choose a representative for its "Green Olympics," China Sinopec would win gold. The multinational energy and oil giant made the essence of the term literal by turning its exhibition hall on the Olympic Green into a monstrous Chia pet. The image is best summarized in one word: green.

The building's enviro-friendly aura does as much for Sinopec's own brand image as it does for the Olympics. The exterior walls are irrigated to ensure the long blades of grass remain thick and perfectly green at all times. Large advertisements cover the walls of the showroom with slogans like "Green Olympics, Green Petroleum."

Sinopec isn't the only Olympic sponsor riding on green. Walking down the row of exhibition halls running parallel to the International Broadcast Center, one sees "Green!" plastered across the front of Samsung. Inside Coca Cola and Samsung, there are exhibits touting the benefits of energy efficiency and recycling. GE's front is papered with a giant advertisement for its "Eco-magination" campaign.

Here's a sample of how GE, Coca Cola, Samsung and Sinopec are making the Olympic Green look greener.

Sinopec:

Message 1: Hovering in the Harmony: Laohe Oilfield

Image 2: Birds flying over peaceful green marshland.

Message 2: Green Olympics, Green Oilfield

Image 2: An oil rig sitting atop rolling rice paddies.

Coca Cola:

Message 1: Intelligent energy management system reduces energy use up to 35%.

Message 2: Use of the 5.658 climate-friendly refrigeration units in Olympic venues is comparable to taking about 194,000 cars off the road for two weeks.

Message 3: If every athlete in the village recycled two beverage cans a day, this could equal more than 350,000 bottles or cans recycled during the two-week Games.

GE:

Message: Experience the Imagination Center

Image: An athlete made of green leaves sprinting from the Bird's Nest

Samsung:

Message: Green! Green!

Image: Flowers, leaves and small windmills decorate the pavilion's facade.

I asked a few people exiting Sinopec what message they walked away with. I received several versions of the same:

"It stands for the Green Olympics and a technological Olympics."

Hmmm...Although the company's image gets a green boost, the photo of an oil rig in the middle of a bright green rice paddy fails to communicate how the company will make energy production green nor does it help to educate or inform.

Spectators do not gain practical tips or knowledge they can apply to real life. (Coca Cola does a better job at this with messages promoting efficacy like: "this could equal approximately 350,000 bottles recycled per day.")

Lee Humphreys and Christopher Finlay write in their "New Technologies, New Representations" in Owning the Olympics that Olympic sponsor Lenovo "must be understood as both an emerging global brand and as an important representative of the Chinese government. Thus, Lenovo's messaging can be understood as messages from China as well."

For example, two Lenovo messages from the Olympics are: "Heavy on features, light on weight" and "Lenovo is sponsoring Olympic athletes from around the world who are training to compete in the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. Like Lenovo, these athletes or Champions come from diverse backgrounds, compete on a global basis and share a strong passion to win."

As with Lenovo, the Chinese government owns a large share in Sinopec, and therefore we can view the messages in Sinopec's advertisements as an extension of government slogans and a key component of Beijing's Green Olympics campaign.

But it's a shame to see such a fantastic opportunity to educate citizens underutilized. At best I think these pavilions represent a maturing communications approach in a country where most environmental ads I'd seen between 2003 and 2006 were simply large billboards in the countryside propounding an even vaguer "Green Olympics, Green Countryside," or warnings to "keep off the grass" and to "prevent forest fires."

[Note:] The Beijing Organizing Committee of the Olympic Games (BOCOG) and the United Nations Environment Program jointly published a series of five informational brochures about China's environmental progress to be distributed at the International Broadcast Center. The parts are:

1. Green Olympics--Environment and Ecological Conservation in Beijing
2. Green Olympics--Air Quality in Beijing
3. Green Olympics--Ozone Layer Protection
4. Green Olympics--Energy Conservation and Renewable Energy Leading to Carbon Reduction
5. Green Olympics--Environmental and Ecological Protection by Olympic Programs