June 10, 2011


… is a neologism based on "whitewashing," to superficially cover over a problem to approve appearances--without solving the problem.  "Whitewashing" is a metaphor based on coating a house or a fence, as in the beginning of the novel Tom Sawyer, with whitewash (which is not paint, but a mixture including water and lime or chalk).

Greenwashing (apparently coined in the 1980s)1 is a company's attempt to cover for poor environmental practices with minor changes to its business or with a marketing campaign.   My favorite example is the BP logo:

A green sun for a company that primarily deals in oil, and has spewed many millions of barrels of it into the Gulf of Mexico.  BP says that the logo "symbolises a number of things--from the living, organic form of a sunflower to the greatest source of energy...the sun itself."  But it's clearly an attempt to capitalize on customers' interest in environmentally-friendliness, just by changing a picture.

My favorite example of a company that appears NOT TO engage in greenwashing is the Sherwin Williams paint concern:

1. My cursory search for the earliest use of "greenwashing" led to a Time article from 1985, where it means "money laundering."

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