The challenge of greenwash: how practitioners should communicate discretionary CSR practices

Authors: Bree Devin, Queensland University of Technology and Dr Jennifer Bartlett, Queensland University of Technology
Published: 2009, Asia Pacific Public Relations Journal, Volume 10
Abstract: This qualitative case study considers the ACCC greenwash investigations in order to form an understanding of how practitioners should effectively communicate discretionary CSR practices of an environmental nature. By considering seven greenwash investigations spanning a period from 2006 to 2008, this study proposes that there are four elements which should be used when developing material to communicate a discretionary CSR practice – the vehicle, which is the communication material or display; the claim, which is what the organisation is trying to communicate; the justification, which considers how the organisation justifies the claim; and finally the intent, which refers to the underlying meaning behind the communication. Finally, through analysing how the ACCCC evaluates that an organisation’s communication material can be considered greenwash, it is suggested that greenwash is not simply misleading information. More specifically, greenwash can refer to the inaccurate, unqualified, or overstated justification that affects an
organisation’s ability to create a legitimate environmental claim.

Keywords: Greenwash, CSR, Institutional Theory, Rhetoric, Sustainability.