What is greenwashing?

Deceptively claiming to be eco-friendly

Greenwashing is when a company exaggerates, misleads, or lies to consumers about actions they are taking to protect the environment. Companies who engage in greenwashing hope to benefit from the positive PR environmentally-sustainable actions can bring, while avoiding the real work of making their business Earth-friendly.

What is an example of greenwashing?

Many large, environmentally-damaging companies have engaged in some form of greenwashing, to garner goodwill from eco-conscious consumers. For example, in 2019, McDonald's switched from using plastic straws to using "eco-friendly" paper straws. After the switch, journalists discovered the "eco-friendly" straws were not recyclable, making them a step backward from the recyclable plastic straws they replaced.

What is the origin of greenwashing?

Greenwashing is a play on the term whitewashing, which means to deliberately conceal incriminating or unpleasant information. Environmentalist Jay Westerveld coined the term greenwashing in a 1986 essay discussing the hotel industry's practice of asking guests to reuse towels to "save the environment."

Variants of greenwashing

In some contexts, you may see greenwashing referred to as "green sheen" or greenscamming.


This shirt says it's made from recycled materials in big letters, but I found out it's only 2%! That's such greenwashing
Fast-food chains in particular are often called out for greenwashing
Fast-food chains in particular are often called out for greenwashing

Related Slang


Updated January 6, 2022

Greenwashing definition by

This page explains what the slang term "Greenwashing" means. The definition, example, and related terms listed above have been written and compiled by the team.

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