Thinkport. Think education. Think Maryland.
Home |  Log In |   |  Register
  Content  Relatives  More Info  PrintClose

Lesson Plan   

    Lesson Information
    Day Plans
    Enrichment Options
    Teacher Reflection

Stage 1
Identify Desired Results

Catchy Title: Greenwashing: The truth behind the "green" ads
Theme/Topic of Lesson: media literacy environmental health
Time Commitment: 2 class periods
Subject Area(s):
    Health - Environmental health
    Language Arts - Process skills
Grade Level(s): 6,7
Standards Alignment:
Class Challenge Question:

How do corporations use greenwashing tactics in media advertisements to influence our perception of their products, and how might these tactics be indirectly related to environmental health issues?


Greenwashing, defined as “disinformation disseminated by an organization so as to present an environmentally responsible public image” though not widely known, is now a recognized word in the English language.   Its inclusion in the dictionary indicates the "significance and permanence of a growing trend among corporations to take advantage of the many consumers who look for green friendly products."  (Source:

Greenwashing is a form of public relations propaganda which gives something (or someone) the appearance of being environmentally friendly when it is, in fact, not.  Greenwash can also encompass vague or potentially misleading product labels such as “all natural,” “biodegradable” and other vague descriptions used entirely at the discretion of the manufacturer, as well as improper applications of terms, such as "organic."

The greenwashing tactic has become widely used by companies who knowingly produce or manufacturer products harmful to the environment.  With the growing trend of environmentalism, many consumers strive to use "environmentally friendly" products.  The response by some corporations has been to greenwash in an effort to persuade consumers that they, and their products, are indeed enviornmentally friendly.

In this lesson, students will be introduced to the topic of greenwashing and discover how many popular companies knowingly and deceitfully use the greenwashing tactic to alter consumer perception.   Students will learn how these tactics influence perception about a company's product, as well as how the tactics relate indirectly to environmental health issues. After analyzing several ads and the greenwashing tactics used, students will then have an opportunity to select one greenwashing ad, and create their own "response advertisement."

The overall goal of this lesson is to create awareness of the greenwashing issue, so that students can become media literate consumers.  By learning how to analyze misleading advertisements, students not only become more aware of the tactics, they also learn how these same tactics may be indirectly related to environmental health issues.

Stage 2
Determine Acceptable Evidence

Learning Objectives:

The Students will:
  • become media literate consumers by learning how companies use greenwashing tactics to sell themselves and their products as "environmentally friendly"

  • develop an understanding of how the greenwashing tactic is deceptive to the public, and may be indirectly related to environmental health issues

  • read, comprehend, interpret and analyze text in a greenwashing ad, and create an advertisement in response to the ad


Students will be graded on their response advertisement, using the response_ad_rubric.doc

Stage 3
Plan Learning Experiences


Internet SitesGreen Life

Contains extensive reports and resources related to Greenwashing.  Be sure to access the following pages and reports from their site:

  • greenwash101.html
  • dontbefooled.html
  • reports/dontbefooled2003.pdf
  • reports/dontbefooled.pdf
  • greenwasherofthemonth.html
Greenwatch Awards

Check out the list of popular greenwashers
Ad Resources

• GE / Ecomagination Campaign

• TruGreen Chemlawn Beyond Pesticides Ad (includes sample response ad)

• American Chemistry
See response campaign

• BP; See alternative energy

Per class
  • Greenwashing-ad resources teachers  (View)
  • Greenwashing--did you know PowerPoint presentation  (View)
  • Greenwashing--response ad rubric  (View)
  • Greenwashing--Standards  (View)
as determined by instructor
    • construction paper
    • poster board
    • glue
    • markers
    • magazines (for pictures)
  • Greenwashing--handout  (View)

  • greenwashing - Disinformation disseminated by an organization so as to present an environmentally responsible public image; Greenwashing is a form of public relations propaganda which gives something the appearance of being environmentally friendly when it is, in fact, not.


This is a straightforward lesson that can be completed in two class periods or less.

The first day involves teaching the concept of greenwashing through a combination "lecture" and classroom discussion that engages students in analyzing several advertisements.  Once students understand the concept of greenwashing, you can move to a discussion about the indirect correlation to environmental health issues. 

On the second day, students will have an opportunity to create a response ad to a greenwash ad of their choice.   Depending upon materials and computer lab availability, students may create their response ads using print materials such as construction paper or poster board, or use digital media such as PowerPoint or Adobe Photoshop.  Optionally, students may wish to use digital images downloaded from the Internet. 

Teacher Prep

A significant amount of time may need to be spent preparing for this lesson.  Familiarize yourself with the research and information provided in the websites listed so that you can appropriately guide discussions.  Though a few examples have been provided on the websites listed (ad_resources_teacher.doc), you should also try to find current examples of greenwashing ads in magazines or TV commercials.

Try to find at least six different ads or websites that represent greenwashing (different ads can be from the same company); at least four should be related to environmental health issues. If possible, try to use samples from the following types of companies:

  • chemical and/or plastics
  • oil manufacturing and production
  • chemical lawn care
  • SUV manufacturers

Based on the ads you find, update the "Did You Know" slide with images or information from the ads relevant to the companies you will use as an example




Day 1: The Greenwashing Tactic
Daily Challenge Question: What's the tactic that some corporations use to promote themselves as being environmentally friendly and how does that tactic influence our perception of them?
45 minutes
Set-up Directions:
  • You'll need an LCD projector connected to a computer
  • From the ads you've identified to use, select one or two to show to the whole class to generate a class discussion
  • Prepare enough copies of the greenwashing handout (greenwash_handout.doc) for all students; note, as you find new ads and companies who engage in greenwashing tactics, update the handout
  • Prepare enough copies of the ads to distribute to students

Teacher Presentation & Motivation:

Class Discussion:

  • Ask students what they know about sales tactics and have a class discussion about different tactics/strategies that sales people use.
  • Ask students why people use these "sales tactics" (to get you to buy their product).
  • Ask students if they think that sales people deliberately use deceitful tactics and what it means to be deceitful.  Ask whether or not they think these tactics are harmful to consumers' health (most students will probably say no).

Tell students that today they'll look at how some companies use a different kind of "sales tactic" that may be indirectly related to environmental health issues.

Activity 1 - Analyzing Ads
  • Begin by showing a greenwashing ad or website (via overhead/LCD projector), or distribute copies to students. 
  • Lead a general discussion about the ad:
    • Who is the company; have students heard of them? What do they know about them?
    • What are they trying to sell (specific product or just their brand name)?
    • How are they trying to sell the product/themselves (what tactics are they using)?
  • Guide the discussion to the part of the ad where they're promoting themselves as being environmentally friendly; what do students know about the company in general?  Are they environmentally friendly?
  • Introduce the topic of greenwashing.  Ask students what they think greenwashing means
  • Lead a discussion about the definition of greenwashing
  • Point out how the ad is greenwashing

Activity 2 - How Greenwashing relates to environmental health

The point of this activity is to show how greenwashing tactics may indirectly contribute to environmental health. To go more in-depth to the media literacy aspect of the lesson, see the cross-curricular enrichment options for suggestions on what to add.

Bring up the "Did You Know" slide (didyouknow.ppt) to illustrate how companies are contributing to environmental health issues.

Distribute the greenwashing handout (greenwash_handout.doc) to each student.

Guide a discussion about specific companies' greenwashing tactics, and how/why it is related to environmental health issues. 


Focus for Media Interaction
Focus for Media Interaction: The focus for media interaction is a specific task to complete and/or information to identify during or after viewing of video segments, Web sites or other multimedia elements.

Ask: What are environmental issues and correlating health concerns companies don't want you to know about?

A good example to use is American Chemistry Council's essential2 campaign. 

Bring up the site and show students how they chemical companies are marketing their products as being "essential to everything."   Note, click on your browsers refresh button several times to view new images.

Explain that the chemical and plastics companies are obviously going to tell the public that their products are "essential to our health." But, what they don't want you to know is that some of those same products, may be detrimental to our health as well.

Optional: Depending upon grade and knowledge level of students, site specific references to the controversy over chemicals and their potential effects on the human health, such as the reproductive system. See endocrine disruption theory

Viewing Activities
What will your students be responsible for while viewing this piece of multi-media or video?

Students will learn how one organization's greenwashing tactic is related to human health issues.

Post Viewing Activities
How will students utilize the information they gathered while viewing the multi-media or video?

The point here, isn't to necessarily go into detail about the environmental health issues, but rather raise awareness of potential issues as they relate to the greenwashing tactics.

Wrap Up:

Distribute 4-6 additional greenwashing print ads or websites.  Tell students that they should read through the ads and select one that they would like to "respond to" for tomorrow's activity.

Day 2: Responding to Ads
Daily Challenge Question: What can we do to "fight back" against greenwashers?
45 minutes
Set-up Directions:

Your set up will depend upon the medium you'll have students use for their response ads. If they are using a computer lab for Interent research or to create a digital ad, then you will need to reserve the computer room.  If they will be creating print ads, then you simply need to have enough materials available for each student.

At a minimum, you will need a computer connected to an LCD projector to show two sample response ads.



Teacher Presentation & Motivation:

Begin with a class discussion about the ads distributed for homework.  What did students learn?  How are the companies using greenwashing tactics?

Tell students:  The greenwashers are out there, and will continue to promote their products and their brand names using deceitful tactics.  So what can we do?

Creating response ads can not only feel personally empowering, but it can also be a tactic to educate the public as well.

Activity 1 - Sample Response Ads

Students will learn what a response ad looks like.

Focus for Media Interaction
Focus for Media Interaction: The focus for media interaction is a specific task to complete and/or information to identify during or after viewing of video segments, Web sites or other multimedia elements.

Bring up two examples of response ads and discuss. Two possibilities:

Viewing Activities
What will your students be responsible for while viewing this piece of multi-media or video?

Students will learn what a response ad looks like.

Post Viewing Activities
How will students utilize the information they gathered while viewing the multi-media or video?

Tell students that they will have the remainder of the class period to create a response ad to a greenwashing ad of their choice.

Activity 2 - Create a Response Ad

Students will work independently to create a response ad to the greenwash ad of their choice. 

Wrap Up:

Explain to students that they just engaged in a media literacy exercise. They can use this new knowledge gained about greenwashing to analyze other types of media messages.  Being a media savvy consumer can be empowering and liberating.  Encourage students to be skeptical about the media messages that surround them everyday and challenge them to not take everything literally at face value.

Enrichment Options
Community Connection

Create a bulletin board or wall in the hallway that displays each greenwash ad and the different accompanying response ads underneath them. 


Parent-Home Connection

Have students make a list of products that they have in their home or that their parents use that are made by a greenwasher.  Have students discuss their greenwashing lesson with their parents, and the importance of being aware of greenwashing tactics.

Cross-Curricular Extensions
  1. Get more into the health and science by engaging students in learning more about a particular environmental health issue related to one of the greenwashers.
  2. Go more in depth into the media literacy aspect of the lesson, by having students analyze a variety of ads and determining whether or not they are greenwashing ads.

    Notes to teacher:
    • based on current available ads, you will need to find a variety of examples
    • using the greenwash-handout as a guide, create another page with blank fields and have students fill in their own examples based on their findings

Stage 4
Teacher Reflection

As a reflective practitioner, note how this lesson could be adjusted after its initial implementation. How successful were the students in demonstrating their knowledge about the subject matter? What did the assessment demonstrate about the students' learning? What skills do the students need to revisit? What instructional strategies worked and what made them successful? What will you change the next time you use this lesson? Why?


Author: Donna Schnupp