An Experimental Study of the Impact of Greenwashing on Attitudes toward Fossil Fuel Corporations’ Sustainability Initiatives

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Abstract

In recent years, fossil fuel companies have released TV advertisements publicizing their efforts to address climate change, efforts that have been branded “greenwashing”. We conducted an experiment testing whether such ads actually cause individuals to develop more favorable attitudes regarding these corporations’ environmental behavior. Our results showed that a single exposure to two 30-second greenwashing ads was indeed sufficient to bolster individuals’ opinions regarding the efforts and progress of fossil fuel corporations in transitioning to renewable energy. In addition, we found that when individuals were presented with data revealing the true extent of these companies’ investments in renewables, this diminished, but did not fully reverse, the effects of the ads on their attitudes. The findings suggest that greenwashing ads may readily sway individuals to adopt more positive attitudes toward fossil fuel companies’ environmental behavior than might be warranted and do so in a manner that may be difficult to counteract.

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Friedman, R. S., & Campbell, D. S. (2023). An Experimental Study of the Impact of Greenwashing on Attitudes toward Fossil Fuel Corporations’ Sustainability Initiatives. Environmental Communication, 17(5), 486–501. https://doi.org/10.1080/17524032.2023.2215959

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