"Greenwashing" is environmental whitewashing. Put another way, greenwashing occurs when a company, government or organization makes a big deal out of some sort of pro-environment practice it has adopted... while privately acting in ways that hurt the environment. Put more bluntly, the watchdog organization CorpWatch defines it this way: "the phenomenon of socially and environmentally destructive corporations attempting to preserve and expand their markets by posing as friends of the environment and leaders in the struggle to eradicate poverty."
It's never a compliment, in short.
Examples abound. Consider the San Francisco Bay Guardian headline: "Nuclear greenwashing: Global warming has suddenly put nukes back on the agenda - but there's a lot the industry isn't telling you." Or consider online magazine Grist's take on a program that touts sustainably harvested wood: "Certifiably Insane? Wood-labeling program less green than it appears."
An Architecture magazine article entitled "Eco-fraud: 'Green buildings' might not be all they're made out to be" warns that the terms"'green building' or sustainable architecture' are easily manipulated by architects, whose success hinges on publicity. The media, meanwhile, are complicit in the greenwashing problem."
CorpWatch has cited many examples of greenwashing, such as oil companies that state a commitment to renewable energy sources, even though they spend relatively little money on green efforts compared to the millions or billions spent on oil exploration. For Earth Day 2000, Ford Motor Co. announced all corporate brand advertising would have an environmental theme; meanwhile, it produced the global-warming gas-guzzler Ford Excursion. And even as a growing chorus raised concerns about genetically engineered foods, seven companies involved in the technology started the "Council for Biotechnology Information" to win public approval for such foods.
The main thing is that you just have to be constantly aware of the fact that the Madison Avenue types have figured out that being supposedly green is the way to success nowadays. You just have to check all those claims if you want to effect positive change and not "fake" change.
For more info:
* "TV Lets Corporations Pull Green Wool Over Viewers' Eyes" says this article: http://www.fair.org/index.php?page=1309
* A short history of greenwashing: http://www.corpwatch.org/article.php?id=242
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