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The other day my kids and I saw a sign advertising organic dry cleaning. When I scoffed, they immediately wanted to know what bothered me about the claim. Soon I was hopelessly tangled in chemistry, agriculture, etymology, consumerism, advertising, the FDA, EPA, FTC…  By the end of it, all I had managed to do was bore them to death and possibly improve their position against broccoli. 

At home I showed them a website called the The Greenwashing Index .  Bingo! It was the perfect tool to teach them about misleading and false advertising– and it was fun!  On the website you can submit, view, and rate ads on a scale of AUTHENTIC to BOGUS. We had a blast and ended up talking about how imagery, music and messages unrelated to the product influence our purchasing and therefore our impact on the planet. 

What Is Greenwashing?  It’s Whitewashing, But with a Green Brush.  Everyone has heard the expression “whitewashing” — it’s defined as a coordinated attempt to hide unpleasant facts, especially in a political context.  “Greenwashing” is the same premise, but in an environmental context.


I first heard about the Greenwashing website at the GoGreen Conference in Austin a few years ago.  It is an interactive website designed by Enviromedia and the University of Oregon to give the public tools to vet advertisements and render judgment on the level of greenwashing each employs.

So check out the The Greenwashing Index, and next time you see greenwashing, or white-washing for that matter, start the conversation with a child in your life.  It’s a powerful one. 

Back to the sign at the local cleaners… sure, their cleaning method, Hydrocarbon, is probably organic.  They use a volatile, carbon-based compound solvent manufactured by ExxonMobil.  The problem is that “organic” doesn’t mean what we are conditioned to believe it means. It does not mean healthy, eco-friendly, and non-toxic. If we are talking “of or related to compounds containing carbon”, then yes, dry cleaners everywhere are organic and always have been.