By The Editors
Greenwashing (or greenwash) is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “Disinformation disseminated by an organization so as to present an environmentally responsible public image.” In other words, the term “greenwashing” applies to the attempts made by companies, organizations or political entities to falsely promote products, services or programs as environmentally friendly, or to deflect attention from environmentally unfriendly activities.
The general consensus is that the term “greenwashing” was originally coined in 1986 by Jay Westerveld, an environmentalist from upstate New York. Jay wrote an essay in which he claimed the hotel industry falsely promoted the reuse of towels as part of a broader environmental strategy, whereas the suggested practice of reusing towels was a cost-saving strategy.
We have not been able to find the much-cited 1986 essay anywhere — and, really, it doesn’t matter, as greenwashing is now a common term.
The best way to avoid getting “greenwashed” is to be aware of the different greenwashing strategies. As Greenpeace tells us: “Every day, Americans are bombarded with advertising about environmentally friendly goods and services. But how many really are green, and how many are just pretending?”
In 2007, TerraChoice Environmental Marketing (now part of the Underwriters Laboratories global network) launched a study of greenwashing by analyzing a variety of products. The result of the study was the identification of six patterns in greenwashing, which were defined as the Six Sins of Greenwashing. In 2009, a follow-up study identified a total of seven sins (The seven sins of Greenwashing). A seven sins wallet card (you can download it here) is available on sinsofgreenwashing.org — it will help you to make educated, greener purchases!!! It includes tips to avoid purchasing products that commit the Seven Sins of Greenwashing, plus a guide to eco-labels.