Friday, 8 May 2009


Everyone’s heard the expression “whitewashing” — it’s defined as “a coordinated attempt to hide unpleasant facts, especially in a political context.”

“Greenwashing” is the same premise, but in an environmental context.

It’s greenwashing when a company or organization spends more time and money claiming to be “green” through advertising and marketing than actually implementing business practices that minimize environmental impact. It’s whitewashing, but with a green brush. It is a deceptive use of green PR or green marketing.

The U.S.-based watchdog group CorpWatch defines greenwash as "the phenomena of socially and environmentally destructive corporations, attempting to preserve and expand their markets or power by posing as friends of the environment." This definition was shaped by the group's focus on corporate behavior and the rise of corporate green advertising at the time. However, governments, political candidates, trade associations and non-government organizations have also been accused of greenwashing. Regardless of the strategy employed, the main objective of greenwashing is to give consumers and policy makers the impression that the company is taking the necessary steps to manage its ecological footprint. .

Corporations are falling all over themselves to demonstrate to current and potential customers that they are not only ecologically conscious, but also environmentally correct. The average citizen is finding it more and more difficult to tell the difference between those companies genuinely dedicated to making a difference and those that are using a green curtain to conceal dark motives.

A classic example might be an energy company that runs an advertising campaign touting a “green” technology they’re working on — but that “green” technology represents only a sliver of the company’s otherwise not-so-green business, or may be marketed on the heels of an oil spill or plant explosion.

Or a hotel chain that calls itself “green” because it allows guests to choose to sleep on the same sheets and reuse towels, but actually does very little to save water and energy where it counts — on its grounds, with its appliances and lighting, in its kitchens and with its vehicle fleet.

What’s wrong with greenwashing?

1. Most obviously greenwashing is misleading. It attempts to deceive us, making us think that a company with an awful environment track record actually has a great one. Not all environmental advertising is dishonest, of course. But any advertising legitimately labelled as “greenwashing” is dishonest, and that’s a problem.

2. Greenwashing may also endanger cynicism: if consumers come to expect self congratulatory ads from even the most environmentally backward corporations, this could render consumers skeptical of even sincere portrayals of legitimate corporate environmental successes. Thus well-meaning companies, companies committed to responsible behavior with regard to environment, have every reason to be critical of companies that greenwash.

Opposition to greenwash

Organizations and individuals are making attempts to reduce the impact of greenwashing by exposing it to the public. CHOICE in Australia offers a chance to report greenwash claims. Greenwashing Index, operated by the University of Oregon, allows cases of greenwashing to be rated. Greenpeace, the international environmental organisation, has a blog that allows greenwashing claims to be rated. Greenwashing blogs also exist to reveal any untruths in claims that are made.

Some businesses are genuinely committed to making the world a better, greener place. But for far too many others, environmentalism is little more than a convenient slogan. Buy our products, they say, and you will end global warming, improve air quality, and save the oceans. At best, such statements stretch the truth; at worst, they help conceal corporate behavior that is environmentally harmful by any standard.

Related articles : Green Products, Green Marketing, Another way of Green Marketing

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