Greenwashing, A Definition of What Greenwashing is, Examples of Greenwashing and How to Spot Greenwashing

Greenwashing Defined
History of Green Washing
Examples of Greenwashing
How to Spot Greenwashing


With the surge in environmental awareness of the general public companies are fast coming to the realisation that being green or environmentally responsible has rewards. Environmentally friendly products are in greater demand, consumers are choosing healthy goods and companies are being punished by clients, consumers and the stock market for ecologically unsound, unsustainable or polluting practices. This demand for clean and green means that there is also a corresponding increase in the unscrupulous practice of claiming green credentials, when in fact there are none, or very little. This practice has become known as 'greenwashing', a term that is derived from 'whitewashing' and 'green' the colloquial name adopted for all things associated with a healthy environment.

Greenwashing Defined

Green washing can be defined as the misleading act of companies, industries, governments, organisations and individuals trying to promote unjustified environmentally friendly practices, products and services through branding, mislabeling, packaging or public relations.

History of Green Washing

The term greenwashing is believed to have been coined in 1986 when environmentalist Jay Westerveld observed the practice of hotels encouraging guests to reuse bath towels as an effort to help the environment. It gave the impression that hotels were pursuing efforts to be more ecologically sound. The reality was that they had no other environmentally positive policies and simply saved massive amounts of money on laundry costs.

Examples of Greenwashing

Examples of greenwashing include:

  • Airbus advertisements with jet aeroplane silhouettes filled with pristine landscape images
  • Mobil Chemical adding some starch to their 'Hefty' trash bags which where then labeled as biodegradable. They were sued for the biodegradability claims and removed the term from their packaging and advertising
  • BAE Systems promoting weapons as environmentally friendly
  • Shell advertising that insinuated oil refineries emitted fresh flowers instead of pollutants
  • Exxon Mobil indicating they were reducing greenhouse gas emissions while they were actually increasing
  • The $200 million public relations and advertising campaign to rebrand BP as an environmentally friendly company with the slogan 'Beyond Petroleum' while little changed within the company formed as a merger of British Petroleum and Amoco
  • Giant supermarket chain Woolworths marketing tissues using a 'Sustainable Forest Fibre' logo with the tagline that they came from "a certified environmentally managed company that is environmentally, socially and economically responsible". The environmental claims were disputed and subsequently withdrawn - although the products were returned to the shelves in different packaging
  • Shell attempting to sponsor prestigious wildlife photography exhibition

How to Spot Greenwashing

For the most part, environmentally friend claims that are actually greenwashing are easy to spot when you think skeptically. Signs that something may be a case of greenwashing include:

  1. Vague or confusing language
  2. The use of pseudoscientific terms
  3. Claims that are unable to be proven or disproved
  4. Petroleum based/reliant or obviously non-ecofriendly products claiming to be green

Source: AZoCleantech

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