Criticism and critical views of the concept of sustainability


Greenwashing is the systematic attempt by companies, associations, political parties or other actors to achieve a greenimage or to label a product, service or similar as sustainable through targeted marketing and PR measures. The Gabler Wirtschaftslexikon describes greenwashing as “suggested environmental friendliness”(14). The Oxford Dictionary, which listed the term as early as the 1990s, defines greenwashing as “disinformation disseminated by an organization so as to present an environmentally responsible public image”(15). Greenwashing does not always have to be intentional; in some cases it also takes place due to ignorance and a lack of education on the subject of sustainability.

To greenwash, you don’t even have to use buzzwords like sustainable, eco-friendly or climate-friendly. In some cases, visual and non-verbal communication alone is enough to portray a product or company as particularly green. Images of untouched nature, growing plants and happy animals and babies are often used for this. In advertising, especially in the automotive industry, the color blue is now also used. This color reference to clean air and clear water is also intended to suggest the environmental friendliness of a product in this case. This staged handling should not be confused with the term bluewashing.

Bluewashing is a subform of greenwashing that is also intended to create a positive image of companies. Bluewashing focuses on implementing and ensuring human rights, fair labor, and poverty reduction. The color blue is intended to express that a company identifies with the values of the UN.

Published in 2018, The Sins of Greenwashing (16) classifies seven different categories.