The term 'greenwashing' refers to the practice of making misleading, exaggerated or unsubstantiated claims about the environmental benefits of a brand or product to project a favourable image. Greenwashing is where a firm spends time and money advertising and marketing that their goods or services are environmentally friendly when, in fact, they are not. The term is also related to the concept of 'whitewashing' where the main intention is to hide deception and malpractice and present a clean image to consumers.
The rate of greenwashing has increased in the new millennium as the demand for sustainable products and practises increases. In recent years, consumers have shown extreme concern for the environment, especially due to the general awareness and understanding of sustainability issues. They demand more transparency and expect organizations to engage in responsible business practices. This has given rise to greenwashing, as organizations want to appeal to consumers, but at the same time remain competitive. Considering the potential benefits of having an environmentally conscious image, sustainability communication that is not accompanied by actual practices is becoming increasingly common.
There are two trends to highlight when conceptualizing greenwashing. The broad trend includes all sustainability issues, environmental, social and economic, under the concept of greenwashing. The more specific trend applies the greenwashing concept only to environmental issues and the bluewashing concept to social issues.
The intentionality of the action is important for the definition, and several authors speak of greenwashing only when there is a clear intention to mislead. Another point that is sometimes emphasized is the existence of a claim. Without this, greenwashing is at least questionable. To complete the scenario, greenwashing may be considered as the result of stakeholders' perceptions of divergences between sustainable behaviour and sustainable communication. Due to the subjective nature of perceptions, identifying real greenwashing is a challenge for stakeholders.