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Greenwashing or Greenwash ( English ; literally 'green washing', translated: 'put on a green coat') is a critical term for PR methods that aim to give a companyan environmentally friendly and responsible image in public without it there is a sufficient basis for this. The term alludes to green as a symbol for nature and environmental protection and laundering in the sense of money laundering or washing yourself clean . As an analogy to whitewashing (English for beautiful coloring , translated: 'get yourself a white vest'; derivation from whitewash for “ sump lime ”) in German it can also betranslatedas green dyeing . If fraudulent or misleading advertising claims about products or services from companies suggest a health bonus that does not exist, one speaks of healthwashing ("washing healthy").

Representation of the phenomena


Greenwashing uses public relations , rhetoric and manipulation techniques to create a positive image for a company, its products or its activities (colloquially: " clean slate" ). The companies claim, among other things, to promote the eradication of poverty and world hunger, to trade their products fairly or to manufacture them in an ecological and climate-friendly manner. Common fields are explanations of sustainability , energy efficiency or CO 2 neutrality .

As a rule, the company publishes individual environmentally friendly services, activities or results or corresponding evaluations by third parties with increased PR expenditure, for example in press campaigns or advertising campaigns. Often the individual statements made - for example about a new, environmentally friendly product or process of the company - are correct in themselves, but only affect a small part of the company's activities, while the core business remains polluting. Probably the most common manifestation is the filtering out of correct statements while at the same time suppressing relevant causalities or classic negative effects. Another form is prophylactic greenwashing: An argument is scattered in order to prevent future counter-arguments and to develop a perceptual advantage.

Actors and Cooperations

Are actors of greenwashing

  • Companies with offers that pollute the environment, consume resources, whose production is subject to a high risk or produce in violation of social standards,
  • paid PR agencies,
  • Lobbyists ,
  • Honored opinion leaders up to the scientific field (expert opinion),
  • Influencer .

A special form of greenwashing are cooperation projects with partners who have a positive image in public and are associated with environmental friendliness, unselfish ecological commitment or independence. Most of these projects are sponsorships . Such cooperation projects are not automatically greenwashing - however, there are currently no generally recognized criteria for differentiation. For this reason, some environmental organizations have given themselves guidelines for sponsoring or cooperation with which greenwashing (or corresponding allegations) should be countered. Regardless of this, these cooperation and sponsoring projects are often the subject of internal discussions and also of greenwashing allegations.


The consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers names the following strategies as typical greenwashing methods used by companies :

  • Hidden goal conflicts: promoting a product as environmentally friendly because of a single property, although other product properties are environmentally harmful.
  • Missing evidence: Make statements that cannot be verified by independent bodies or substantiated by meaningful studies.
  • Vague statements: Use unclear terms that are easy to misunderstand.
  • Misleading or symbolic labels: Use labels originating from dubious institutes or self-invented labels that have practically no informative value.
  • Irrelevant statements: make statements that are true but have no informative value. (Example: A product is advertised with the statement CFC-free, although this only implements legal requirements).
  • Lesser evil: Compare a product with an even less environmentally friendly product to put it in a better light.
  • Untruths: Send advertising messages that are in fact inaccurate (example: an organic label is used, although the product has not been certified for this label at all).
  • Deep Greenwash: Companies try to lobby political decision-makers in order to weaken the binding nature of environmental regulations. For example, by weaving in legal passages to legitimize the suggestion of green electricity.

Two other methods are to be mentioned in addition, which are listed on the blog

  • Missing activities: Companies symbolically emphasize the relevance of sustainability, but actually can hardly show any activities to underpin this.
  • External activities: A normal technical advance or an acquired technology is sold as a company's own success. (Example: A legally prescribed reduction in CO 2 emissions is issued as a contribution by the company)


The opposite of greenwashing is seen as ecologism .


Symbolic picture: industrial snow

Greenwashing has long been a phenomenon of companies whose production can be risky, polluting or dangerous for employees or residents. Classic these are u. a. certain mines, nuclear power plants, the chemical, pharmaceutical or food industries. In addition, a globalized textile industry with widely differing requirements for production in individual countries. In many cases it is very difficult for the consumer to check the statements of greenwashing or for institutions to prove them to the companies. Wherever environmental or consumer protection institutions manage to provide evidence, a high level of media coverage is the rule. Sometimes negative prizes are also given. In the current discussion of climate change , the main players in greenwashing are the so-called " carbon majors ", i.e. the companies that make the greatest contribution to global CO 2 production.

Examples (selection)

Chiquita is one of the companies that has come under constant media criticism for greenwashing. Since the mid-nineties, the group has presented itself as an environmentally conscious and fair company, which enjoys exemplary status, not least due to the above-average wages. However, employees of the plantations repeatedly report that wages are too low and that their trade union rights are disregarded . The employees also claim that those who claim their rights are thrown out of the company under a pretext and then no longer get employment in the region.

One of the best-known greenwashing campaigns in recent years was the "beyond petroleum" of the British oil company bp , which has since been discontinued, and the associated media-effective campaigns, such as B. the installation of solar power systems at some petrol stations , which was indicated by the " Helios symbol" in the new logo in the form of a green and yellow flower.

In January 2020 the Fur Free Alliance (FFA) warned of the "WelFur" animal welfare certificate, which is operated by the fur industry itself.

See also


  • Stangl / Drobiunig-Stangl Stangl, A .; Drobiunig-Stangl, S. (2015): Healthwashing - How the food industry uses advertising research to influence our buying and eating behavior , Saarbrücken: AV Akademikerverlag. ISBN 978-3-639-87632-1
  • Friedrich Schmidt-Bleek: Green lies: Nothing for the environment, everything for business - how politics and economics destroy the world . Ludwig, Munich 2014, ISBN 978-3-453-28057-1 .
  • Stefan Kreutzberger: The ecological lie. How to see through the green label fraud . Econ, Berlin 2009, ISBN 978-3-430-30045-2 .
  • Toralf Staud : Everything we buy is green, green, green: Lies until the image is right . Kiepenheuer & Witsch, Cologne 2009, ISBN 3-462-04106-1 .
  • Peter Seele: Is Blue the new Green? Colors of the Earth in Corporate PR and Advertisement to communicate Ethical Commitment and Responsibility . Working Paper CRR 03, 2007/1, download as PDF .
  • John Stauber , Sheldon Rampton: Toxic waste makes you slim. Media professionals, spin doctors, PR wizards. The truth about the public relations industry . Orange-Press, Freiburg 2006, ISBN 978-3-936086-28-7 .
  • Kathrin Hartmann : End of the fairy tale hour. How industry is taking over the Lohas and lifestyle ecos. Blessing, Munich 2009, ISBN 978-3-89667-413-5 .

Web links

Wiktionary: Greenwashing  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

supporting documents

  1. Archive link ( Memento of the original from April 5, 2016 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice.  @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  2. Cf. for example ANU : Leuchtpol - BNE in kindergarten. ( Memento of the original from January 31, 2010 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. , April 21, 2008. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  3. See BUNDjugend: Green League without EnBW / Naturenergie , May 24, 2006.
  6. Archived copy ( Memento of the original from March 5, 2017 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  8. Christoph Birnbaum and Klaus Remme: BP - beyond petroleum - From Image and Reality , Deutschlandfunk - Background from June 8, 2010
  10. FOUR PAWS and Fur Free Alliance warn of greenwashing seals for the fur industry , from January 22, 2020 in