Greenwashing (a compound word modelled on "whitewash"), or "green sheen," is a form of spin in which green PR or green marketing is deceptively used to promote the perception that an organization's aims and policies are environmentally friendly. Whether it is to increase profits or gain political support, greenwashing may be used to manipulate popular opinion to support otherwise questionable aims.
The term greenwashing was coined by New York environmentalist Jay Westervelt in a 1986 essay regarding the hotel industry's practice of placing placards in each room promoting reuse of towels ostensibly to "save the environment." Westerveld noted that, in most cases, little or no effort toward reducing energy waste was being made by these institutions—as evidenced by the lack of cost reduction this practice effected. Westerveld opined that the actual objective of this "green campaign" on the part of many hoteliers was, in fact, increased profit. Westerveld thus labeled this and other outwardly environmentally conscientious acts with a greater, underlying purpose of profit increase as greenwashing.
The term is generally used when significantly more money or time has been spent advertising being green (that is, operating with consideration for the environment), rather than spending resources on environmentally sound practices. This is often portrayed by changing the name or label of a product to evoke the natural environment or nature—for example, putting an image of a forest on a bottle containing harmful chemicals. Environmentalists often use greenwashing to describe the actions of energy companies, which are traditionally the largest polluters.
Norway's consumer ombudsman has targeted automakers who claim that their cars are "green," "clean" or "environmentally friendly" with some of the world's strictest advertising guidelines. Consumer Ombudsman official Bente Øverli said: "Cars cannot do anything good for the environment except less damage than others." Manufacturers risk fines if they fail to drop the words. Øverli said she did not know of other countries going so far in cracking down on cars and the environment.
In addition, the political term "linguistic detoxification" describes when, through legislation or other government action, the definitions of toxicity for certain substances are changed, or the name of the substance is changed, so that fewer things fall under a particular classification as toxic. The origin of this phrase has been attributed to environmental activist and author Barry Commoner.
Similarly, introduction of a Carbon Emission Trading Scheme may feel good, but may be counterproductive if the cost of carbon is priced too low, or if large emitters are given "free credits." For example, Bank of America subsidiary MBNA offers an Eco-Logique MasterCard for Canadian consumers that rewards customers with carbon offsets as they continue using the card. Customers may feel that they are nullifying their carbon footprint by purchasing polluting goods with the card. However, only 0.5 percent of purchase price goes into purchasing carbon offsets, while the rest of the interchange fee still goes to the bank.
In the mid 1960s, the environmental movement gained momentum. This popularity prompted many companies to create a new green image through advertising. Jerry Mander, a former Madison advertising executive, called this new form of advertising "ecopornography."
The first Earth Day was held on April 22, 1970. This encouraged many industries to advertise themselves as being friendly to the environment. Public utilities spent 300 million dollars advertising themselves as clean green companies. This was eight times more than the money they spent on pollution reduction research.
In 1985, the Chevron Corporation launched one of the most famous greenwashing ad campaigns in history. Chevron's "People Do" advertisements were aimed at a "hostile audience" of "societally conscious" people. Two years after the launch of the campaign, surveys found people in California trusted Chevron more than other oil companies to protect the environment. In the late 1980s The American Chemistry Council started a program called Responsible Care, which shone light on the environmental performances and precautions of the group's members. The loose guidelines of responsible care caused industries to adopt self-regulation over government regulation.
In 1991, a study published in the Journal of Public Policy and Marketing (American Marketing Association) found that 58% of environmental ads had at least one deceptive claim. Another study found that 77% of people said the environmental reputation of company affected whether they would buy their products. One fourth of all household products marketed around Earth Day advertised themselves as being green and environmentally friendly. In 1998 the Federal Trade Commission created the "Green Guidelines," which defined terms used in environmental marketing. The following year the FTC found that the Nuclear Energy Institute claims of being environmentally clean were not true. The FTC did nothing about the ads because they were out of their jurisdiction. This caused the FTC to realize they needed new clear enforceable standards. In 1999, according to environmental activist organizations, the word "greenwashing" was added to the Oxford English Dictionary.
In 2002, during the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, the Greenwashing Academy hosted the Greenwash Academy Awards. The ceremony awarded companies like BP, ExxonMobil, and even the US Government for their elaborate greenwashing ads and support for greenwashing.
The Australian Trade Practices Act has been modified to include punishment of companies that provide misleading environmental claims. Any organization found guilty of such could face up $1.1 million in fines. In addition, the guilty party must pay for all expenses incurred while setting the record straight about their product or company's actual environmental impact.
Canada's Competition Bureau along with the Canadian Standards Association are discouraging companies from making "vague claims" towards their products' environmental impact. Any claims must be backed up by "readily available data."
Norwegian car manufacturers are forbidden from claiming that their automobiles are environmentally friendly, since cars "can't be environmentally beneficial," as a spokesperson for the country's Consumer Ombudsman explains. Manufacturers may face fines if they even use the terms "environmentally friendly," "green," "clean," or "natural" in their advertisements.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) provides voluntary guidelines for environmental marketing claims. These guidelines give the FTC the right to prosecute false and misleading advertisement claims. The green guidelines were not created to be used as an enforceable guideline but instead were intended to be followed voluntarily. Listed below are the green guidelines set by the FTC.
- Qualifications and disclosures: The Commission traditionally has held that in order to be effective, any qualifications or disclosures such as those described in these guides should be sufficiently clear, prominent and understandable to prevent deception. Clarity of language, relative type size and proximity to the claim being qualified, and an absence of contrary claims that could undercut effectiveness, will maximize the likelihood that the qualifications and disclosures are appropriately clear and prominent.
- Distinction between benefits of product, package and service: An environmental marketing claim should be presented in a way that makes clear whether the environmental attribute or benefit being asserted refers to the product, the product's packaging, a service or to a portion or component of the product, package or service. In general, if the environmental attribute or benefit applies to all but minor, incidental components of a product or package, the claim need not be qualified to identify that fact. There may be exceptions to this general principle. For example, if an unqualified "recyclable" claim is made and the presence of the incidental component significantly limits the ability to recycle the product, then the claim would be deceptive.
- Overstatement of environmental attribute: An environmental marketing claim should not be presented in a manner that overstates the environmental attribute or benefit, expressly or by implication. Marketers should avoid implications of significant environmental benefits if the benefit is in fact negligible.
- Comparative claims: Environmental marketing claims that include a comparative statement should be presented in a manner that makes the basis for the comparison sufficiently clear to avoid consumer deception. In addition, the advertiser should be able to substantiate the comparison.
The FTC has said in 2010 that it will update its guidelines for environmental marketing claims in an attempt to reduce greenwashing.
- Environmentalists have argued that the Bush Administration's Clear Skies Initiative actually weakens air pollution laws.
- Many food products have packaging that evokes an environmentally friendly imagery even though there has been no attempt made at lowering the environmental impact of its production.
- In 2009, European McDonald's changed the colour of their logos from yellow and red to yellow and green; a spokesman for the company explained that the change was "to clarify [their] responsibility for the preservation of natural resources."
- An article in Wired magazine alleges that slogans are used to suggest environmentally benign business activity: the Comcast ecobill has the slogan of "PaperLESSisMORE" but Comcast uses large amounts of paper for direct marketing. The Poland Spring ecoshape bottle is touted as "A little natural does a lot of good," although 80% of beverage containers go to the landfill. The Airbus A380 airliner is described as "A better environment inside and out" even though air travel has a high negative environment cost.
- According to Fred Pearce's Greenwash column in The Guardian, "clean coal" is the "ultimate climate change oxymoron"—"pure and utter greenwash" he says.
- The Advertising Standards Authority in the UK upheld several complaints against major car manufacturers including Suzuki, SEAT, Toyota and Lexus who made erroneous claims about their vehicles.
- Kimberly Clark's claim of "Pure and Natural" diapers in green packaging. The product uses organic cotton on the outside but keeps the same petrochemical gel on the inside. Pampers also claims that "Dry Max" diapers reduce landfill waste by reducing the amount of paper fluff in the diaper, which really is a way for Pampers to save money.
- A 2010 advertising campaign by Chevron was described by the Rainforest Action Network, Amazon Watch and The Yes Men as greenwash. A spoof campaign was launched to pre-empt Chevron's greenwashing.
- Claiming toxic sewage sludge is good for human health
- "Clean Coal," an initiative adopted by several platforms for the 2008 U.S presidential elections is an example of political greenwashing. The policy cited carbon capture as a means of reducing carbon emissions by capturing and injecting CO2 produced by coal plants into layers of porous rock below the ground(2)(4).
- The conversion of the term "Tar Sands" to "Oil Sands," (Alberta, Canada) in corporate and political language reflects an ongoing debate between the project's adherents and opponents. This semantic shift can be seen as a case of greenwashing in an attempt at countering growing public concern as to the environmental and health impacts of the industry. While advocates claim that the shift is scientifically derived to better reflect the usage of the sands as a precursor to oil, environmental groups are claiming that this is simply a means of cloaking the issue behind friendlier terminology(5).
Greenwashing has shown a significant increase in use over the last decade. TerraChoice Environmental Marketing, an advertising consultancy company issued a report denoting a 79% increase in the usage of corporate greenwashing between 2007 and 2009(1). Additionally, it has begun to manifest itself in new varied ways. Within the non-residential building products market in the United States, some companies are beginning to claim that their environmentally minded policy changes will allow them to earn points through the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design rating program. This point system has been held up as an example of the "gateway effect" that the drive to market products as environmentally friendly is having on company policies. Jim Nicolow, AIA, LEED Fellow, leader of architecture and planning firm Lord, Aeck & Sargent's sustainable design initiative has claimed that the greenwashing trend may be enough to eventually effect a genuine reduction in environmentally damaging practices(2).
Opposition to greenwash 
Organizations and individuals are making attempts to reduce the impact of greenwashing by exposing it to the public. The Greenwashing Index, created by the University of Oregon in partnership with EnviroMedia Social Marketing, allows examples of greenwashing to be uploaded and rated by the public. The British Code of Advertising, Sales Promotion and Direct Marketing has a specific section (section 49) targeting environmental claims.
See also 
|Wikisource has original text related to this article:|
- Conspicuous conservation
- False advertising
- Green brands
- Green company
- Green marketing
- Environmentally friendly
- List of environmental issues
- The Age of Persuasion (January 8, 2011). "Season 5: It's Not Easy Being Green: Green Marketing". CBC Radio. Retrieved 8 January 2011.
- "LP: 'The biggest environmental crime in history'". Libertypost.org. Retrieved 2009-09-11.
- Motavalli, Jim (2011-02-12). "A History of Greenwashing: How Dirty Towels Impacted the Green Movement". AOL.
- "Grønvaskere invaderer børsen" [Greenwashers invade the market]. EPN.dk (in Danish). Jyllands-Posten. 2008-06-21. Retrieved 2012-12-22.
- "Beware of green marketing, warns Greenpeace exec". ABS-CBN News. 2008-09-17. Retrieved 2012-11-14.
- Hayward, Philip (2009-02-01). "The Real Deal? Hotels grapple with green washing". Lodging Magazine online. Archived from the original on 2009-02-05.
- Suryodiningrat, Meidyatama (2008-08-28). "Commentary: When CSR is neither profit nor public good". Jakarta Post online. Retrieved 2012-12-24.
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- Commoner, Barry (1990). "After 20 Years: The Crisis of Environmental Regulation". NEW SOLUTIONS: A Journal of Environmental and Occupational Health Policy 1 (1): 22–29.
- "Cashing in on the Environmental". climatechangecentral.com. Retrieved 2009-09-11.
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- Greenwash 101. Retrieved November 14, 2009. from thegreenlifeonline.org
- Greenwashing Fact Sheet. March 22, 2001. Retrieved November 14, 2009. from corpwatch.org
- Naish, J. (2008). Lies…Damned lies…And green lies. Ecologist, 38(5), 36-39. Retrieved from Academic Search Complete database.
- Doyle, Alistair (April 3, 2009). "Norway cracks down on car ads". The Globe and Mail (Toronto). Retrieved August 9, 2011.
- Guides for the use of environmental marketing claims. (n.d.). Received November 14, 2009, from ftc.gov
- Lukovitz, k. (n.d.) New 'Green' Ad Claim Regulations Coming Next Year. Green clean certified. Retrieved from greencleancertified.com
- US Senator Patrick Leahy (April 26, 2004). "The Greenwashing of the Bush Anti-Environmental Record on the President's Earth Day Visits to Maine and Florida". Archived from the original on 2010-02-03. Retrieved June 29, 2007.
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- [dead link]
- Hagerman, Eric (2008-10-20). "Little Green Lies—How Companies Erect an Eco-Facade". Wired. Retrieved 2009-01-28.
- Pearce, Fred (2009-02-26). "Greenwash: Why 'clean coal' is the ultimate climate-change oxymoron". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 2010-02-13.
- "ASA Adjudications - Suzuki GB plc". ASA. 2009-06-10. Retrieved 2009-07-20.
- "ASA Adjudications Volkswagen Group UK Ltd t/a Seat UK". ASA. 2009-04-22. Retrieved 2009-07-20.
- "ASA Adjudications Toyota (GB) plc". ASA. 2008-12-10. Retrieved 2009-07-20.
- "ASA Adjudications Lexus (GB) Ltd". ASA. 2008-09-24. Retrieved 2009-07-20.
- "Massive Chevron Ad Campaign Derailed, Media Slapstick Follows" (Press release). Urbana-Champaign Independent Media Center. 19 October 2010. Retrieved 19 October 2010.
- "Interview Water Environment Federation".
- "Green Watch". choice.com.au. Retrieved 2009-09-11.
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- "StopGreenwash.org". StopGreenwash.org. Retrieved 2009-09-11.
Further reading 
- Clegg, Brian. 2009. Eco-logic: Cutting Through the Greenwash: Truth, Lies and Saving the Planet. London: Eden Project. ISBN 978-1-905811-25-0.
- Greer, Jed, and Kenny Bruno. 1996. Greenwash: The Reality Behind Corporate Environmentalism. Penang, Malaysia: Third World Network. ISBN 983-9747-16-9.
- Lubbers, Eveline. 2002. Battling Big Business: Countering Greenwash, Infiltration, and Other Forms of Corporate Bullying. Monroe, ME: Common Courage Press. ISBN 1-56751-224-0
- Tokar, Brian. 1997. Earth for Sale: Reclaiming Ecology in the Age of Corporate Greenwash. Boston: South End Press. ISBN 0-89608-558-9.
- Dobin, D. (2009). Greenwashing harms entire movement. Lodging Hospitality, 65(14), 42. Retrieved from Business Source Premier database
- (2009). Greenwashing culprits to be foiled ahead of business summit. European Environment & Packaging Law Weekly, (159), 28. Retrieved from GreenFILE database
- Priesnitz, W. (2008). Greenwash: When the green is just veneer. Natural Life, (121), 14-16. Retrieved from GreenFILE database.
- Catherine, P. (n.d). Eco-friendly labelling? It's a lot of 'greenwash'. Toronto Star (Canada), Retrieved from Newspaper Source database.
- Jonathan, L. (n.d). Why 'greenwash' won't wash with consumers. Sunday Times, The, Retrieved from Newspaper Source database.
- Jenny, D. (n.d). New reports put an end to greenwashing. Daily Telegraph, The (Sydney), Retrieved from Newspaper Source database.
- Lippert, I. (2011). Greenwashing. In P. Robbins, K. Wehr, and J. G. Golson, editors, Encyclopedia of Green Culture. New Delhi: Sage Publications. ISBN 978-1-4129-9693-8.
- Roberts Environmental Center - ratings of corporate sustainability claims.
- How Greenwashing Works at HowStuffWorks
- Beware of Greenwashing: Not All Environmental Claims are Meaningful - How to avoid being fooled
- Questioning "corporate social responsibility" - Greenwashing article from London's Southern OnTrack magazine
- Greenwashing in Popular Culture and Art
- What is Greenwashing, and Why is it a Problem?"
- Footsie 100 Green Winners and Green Washers Survey
- DuPont and Greenwash "An Examination of the Limits to DuPont's 'Sustainability' Commitments" by United Steelworkers Union 11/03/07
- Greenwashing and the corporate mind.
- Streaming audio of a January 2011, radio program on the subject of Green Marketing/Greenwashing -- from Canada's public broadcasting radio, CBC Radio. This link also provides the videos which accompany the radio show.
- Le Greenwashing, arme fatale de communication ou dogme écologique?
- The 10:10 campaign: Corporate greenwash? Independent Research organisation Corporate Watch looks at the fact of a 2009 campaign by energy provider E.On