CoverIntroductionKey Civics and Government ConceptsDefining Critical Media LiteracyCritical Media Literacy GuidesTopic 1. Foundations of the United States Political System1.1 Social Media Policies and Community Standards on YouTube, Twitter, TikTok and More1.2 The Internet as a Public Utility1.3  21st Century Women STEM Innovators1.4 Media Coverage of Kings, Queens, and Royal Families1.5 Representations of Native Americans in Films, Local History Publications, and School MascotsTopic 2. The Development of United States Government2.1 Declarations of Independence on Social Media2.2 Media Marketing and Government Regulation of Self-Driving Cars and Electric Vehicles2.3 Representations of and Racism Toward Black Americans in the Media2.4 Political Debates Through Songs from Hamilton: An American Musical2.5 Bill of Rights on TwitterTopic 3. Institutions of United States Government3.1: Hollywood Movies About the Branches of Government3.2: Writing an Impeachment Press Release3.3: Members of Congress' Use of Social Media3.4: Political Impacts of Public Opinion Polls3.5: Website Design for New Political PartiesTopic 4. The Rights and Responsibilities of Citizens4.1: Immigration in the News4.2: Portrayals of Immigrants in Television and Film4.3: COVID-19 Information Evaluation4.4: Women Political Leaders in the Media4.5: Online Messaging by Special Interest Groups4.6: Digital Games for Civic Engagement4.7: Social Media and the Elections4.8: Images of Political Leaders and Political Power4.9: Media Spin in the Coverage of Political Debates4.10: Celebrities' Influence on Politics4.11: Political Activism Through Social Media4.12: Media Recruitment of Public Sector Workers4.13 Deciding What Books Students Read in School4.14: Images of Teachers and Teaching4.15: For Whom Is and Could Your School Be Named4.16: Representing Trans Identities4.17: Media Framing of the Events of January 6, 20214.18: Music as Protest Art4.19: PACs, Super PACs, and Unions in the Media4.20 Brands and PoliticsTopic 5. The Constitution, Amendments, and Supreme Court Decisions5.1: Prohibition in the Media5.2: The Equal Rights Amendment on Twitter and Other Social Media5.3: Civil War Era News Stories and Recruitment Advertisements5.4: Representations of Gender and Race on U.S. Currency5.5: The Equality Act on Twitter5.6: Reading Supreme Court Dissents Aloud5.7: Television Cameras in CourtroomsTopic 6. The Structure of State and Local Government6.1: Native American Mascots and Logos6.2: A Constitution for the Internet6.3: Military Recruitment and the Media6.4: Your Privacy on Social Media6.5: Pandemic Policy Information in the Media6.6: Gendered Language in Media Coverage of Women in Politics6.7: Gender-Neutral Marketing of Toys 6.8: Environmental Campaigns Using Social Media6.9: Trusted Messengers, the Media, and the Pandemic6.10: Online Campaigning for Political Office6.11: Advertising the Lottery Online and In Print6.12: Local Governments, Social Media and Digital Democracy6.13: Protecting the CommonsTopic 7. Freedom of the Press and News/Media Literacy7.1: Press Freedom in the United States and the World7.2: Objectivity and Reporting the News from All Sides7.3: Investigative Journalism and Social Change7.4: News Photographs & Newspaper Design7.5: How Reporters Report Events7.6: Recommendation Algorithms on Social Media Platforms7.7: YouTube Content Creators7.8: Fake News Investigation and Evaluation7.9: Paywalls and Access to Online News7.10: Critical Visual Analysis of Online and Print Media7.11: Memes and TikToks as Political Cartoons7.12: Women Reporters in the Movies7.13: Design a 21st Century Indie Bookstore 7.14: Greenwashing and the Media7.15: AI Writing Tools and Political Information

7.14: Greenwashing and the Media

“Time to do the washing.”

What do you think of when you hear that phrase?

It used to be all about getting clean clothes, sheets, and towels by doing the laundry. But now, as language evolves and meanings change, washing is connected to green washing where companies seek to project an image of environmentally sound business practices through the use of ambiguous, misleading, and even false advertising.

Online and print media is awash in greenwashing.

Image of a leaf in a circle that says "earth friendly"
"Earth Friendly Label" by Clker-Free-Vector-Images | Pixabay

Look online and in stores and you will see green-inspired advertising, much of which accurately represents the values and practices of manufacturers and distributors. Companies like Patagonia (clothing); Seventh Generation (personal care and cleaning products); Numi Organic Tea; Allbirds (footwear); Pela (phone cases); and Preserve (toothbrushes) have long records of eco-friendly, sustainable business and advertising practices (The 15 Most Environmentally Friendly & Sustainable Companies, 2022. Grow Ensemble).

The record of other companies that engage in green marketing is less exemplary: McDonalds which introduced paper straws in 2019 that were not recyclable; H&M whose Conscious Collection clothing was made with a high percentage of synthetic rather than organic materials; IKEA that made beechwood chairs from illegally sourced wood; Windex using ingredients harmful to people and animals in its sprays; or Hefy claiming its bags were recyclable when they were not (Greenwashing: 10 Recent Stand-Out Examples. Akepa, July 23, 2021).

Green washing has led to other forms of color washing by businesses and brands: 

What other color washing can you identify? How about Sports Washing?

Sportswashing, as explained by Michael Silverman in The Boston Globe (“This Shot Was Way Off Line,” September 2, 2022) involves turning people’s attention away from negative practices in business or politics by promoting sports events and individual athletic stars. Silverman uses LIV Golf, the Saudi Arabian-backed professional golf tour as an example where Saudi government leaders are seeking to use support for sports to draw attention ways from their human rights abuses and repressive practices toward women and LGBTQ groups.

Another example of sportswashing would be the middle eastern nation Qatar's hosting of the 2022 Men's Soceer World Cup. The tournament is seen by many as a way for Qatar's leaders to distract international attention away from the country's long record of human rights abuses.

One historian has likened sportswashing to the term “bread and circuses” through which ancient Roman emperors used gladiators and chariot races to distract people from their concerns over hunger and poverty.

Greenwashing and related forms of media washing offer opportunities for teachers and students to critically explore how advertising conveys meanings and messages to readers and viewers.

From a civics learning perspective, what role does the federal or state government have, if any, in regulating deceptive greenwashing practices? What roles can individual students and teachers play as ethical consumers who support accurate marketing and reject false presentations and claims?

Activity 1: Advocate for the Regulation of Greenwashing

Activity 2: Produce a Reverse Greenwash Ad Campaign

Additional Resources


CC BY-NC-SA: This work is released under a CC BY-NC-SA license, which means that you are free to do with it as you please as long as you (1) properly attribute it, (2) do not use it for commercial gain, and (3) share any subsequent works under the same or a similar license.