People often use the term “greenwashing” to cover all misleading claims a company makes to about their commitment and/or actions related to social and environmental responsibility.
Because of my background in designing and measuring the impact of social impact programs that support community issues and nonprofit organizations, I believe it is important to distinguish the type of exaggerated claims a company makes so I also use the term “goodwashing.”
Both “goodwashing” and “greenwashing” are terms used to describe deceptive practices by companies or organizations that attempt to portray themselves as socially responsible or environmentally friendly, when, in reality, their actions may not align with their claims. The main difference lies in the focus of the deception.
Greenwashing refers specifically to the deceptive practice of exaggerating or misleadingly promoting the environmental friendliness or sustainability of a company, product, or service. Companies engaged in greenwashing may use misleading labels, deceptive marketing, or false claims to give the impression that their operations are environmentally responsible, while their actual practices might be harmful to the environment.
Goodwashing is a broader term that encompasses deceptive practices related to social responsibility or positive societal impact. It refers to instances where companies attempt to create a positive image by overstating their social contributions or charitable activities without genuinely engaging in meaningful efforts to address social issues. If the philanthropic efforts are merely token gestures without meaningful integration into the organization’s operations, it could be a sign of inauthentic social responsibility efforts.
For instance, a company might extensively promote its charitable donations and philanthropic initiatives, but behind the scenes, it may be engaged in unethical labor practices or exploitative supply chain activities.
Are your social impact claims and philanthropic efforts aligned with your core business practices and values?
Basically, greenwashing focuses on misleading environmental claims, while goodwashing extends to misleading claims about social responsibility and positive impact. Both practices can erode consumer trust and undermine genuine efforts made by organizations that are committed to sustainability and social responsibility.