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to try to convince people that you are doing something which is good for the environment by being involved in small, environmentally-friendly initiatives, especially as a way of hiding your involvement in activities which are damaging to the environment
'He found that 84 per cent believe it is now more important to teach about environmental issues than it was in the past … Standish also looked at national curriculum requirements – and textbooks – and concluded that pupils were being "greenwashed" by simplistic and skewed approaches to complex issues.'The Independent 6th February 2003
'Tony Blair was accused of attempting a "greenwash" of the government's environmental record today, as he launched a white paper on energy provision …'The Guardian 24th February 2003
'Greenwashing is what corporations do when they try to make themselves look more environmentally friendly than they really are … Arguably, the greenwashers get away with it more often than not. But their deceptions do not go entirely unnoticed.'www.alternet.org 29th August 2002
For many years now, the adjective green has had a general association with eco-friendliness and environmental issues. It therefore has a logical function in a verb which encapsulates the idea of pulling the proverbial wool over the eyes of those of us who are concerned about the environment. For example, have you ever bought an organic, environmentally-friendly shampoo, only to discover that in fact it contains chemicals such as 'sodium lauryl sulphate' and 'propylene glycol'? If so, you have been greenwashed!
initially, use of the term greenwash was confined to the context of advertising with an environmentally-friendly focus … latterly, it has been used more widely in political contexts
The transitive verb greenwash usually appears in the passive form, and a participle adjective greenwashed is very common, meaning something like 'involving or containing deception about environmental issues', as in greenwashed commentaries/companies/language. There are a number of other derivatives: the countable noun homograph greenwash denotes an instance of deception, greenwashing is a participle noun to denote the activity, and greenwashers are those involved in this kind of environmental spin.
Initially, use of the term greenwash was confined to the context of advertising with an environmentally-friendly focus, the development of brands and images designed to convince people of the eco-friendliness of particular products. Latterly, the term has been used more widely in political contexts, in reference to policies which appear to promote the well-being of the environment but in fact disguise deeper and more widespread issues of environmental decay. The term green spin is often used in similar contexts.
The term greenwash has been around since the early nineties, emerging from the Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. In 1999, it entered the Concise Oxford Dictionary, defined there as: 'Disinformation disseminated by an organization so as to present an environmentally responsible public image.'
The word greenwash is a blend of the adjective green, in its sense of 'protecting the environment', and the verb whitewash, meaning 'to try to stop people from discovering the true facts about something'. There is also some evidence for the term blackwash, a kind of antonym of whitewash meaning 'to bring information out of concealment', though as yet this has limited coverage in dictionaries and much less widespread usage than whitewash or greenwash.
This article was first published on 10th January 2005.