50 years ago, corporate greenwashing was well under way

Excerpt from the November 27, 1971 issue of Science News

Two people painting an oil barrel green

Protestors in Washington, D.C., paint oil barrels green to symbolize “greenwashing,” which is when companies mislead consumers by making them think that a product, service or the company itself is environmentally friendly or sustainable, when it is not.

TIM SLOAN/AFP via Getty Images

the cover of the November 11, 1971 issue of Science News

Environmental advertising: A question of integrityScience News, November 27, 1971

A new report published by the Council on Economic Priorities clearly outlines facts showing that much corporate advertising on environmental themes is irrelevant or even deceptive.… A large percentage of the environmental advertising comes from companies that are the worst polluters.


Concerns about “greenwashing,” a term coined in the 1980s to describe the practice of organizations marketing their products as environmentally friendly when they are not, have persisted into the current climate crisis. As more consumers have become environmentally conscious, corporations’ greenwashing tactics have evolved. For instance, some energy companies in the United States have claimed that natural gas is a “clean” energy source because the power plants emit less carbon dioxide than coal plants. But natural gas plants can emit large amounts of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. In 2022, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission plans to review its “Green Guides,” rules for companies that make environmental claims.

Mike is the audience engagement editor. He graduated from the University of Maryland with a double major in journalism and psychology. He previously wrote for The Palm Beach Post, covering breaking news.

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