Green, blue or black, but washing–What company characteristics determine greenwashing?

Silvia Ruiz-Blanco, Silvia Romero, Belen Fernandez-Feijoo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

60 Scopus citations


The purpose of this paper is to study what are the characteristics that make firms less or more prone to greenwashing. We collect data from sustainability disclosures of the S&P top 100 companies, to investigate the determinants of greenwashing. We use content analysis to measure the level of reporting of the companies. We define the “greenwashing” variable as the difference between what the company says it does in terms of commitment to sustainability, and what the company actually does as evaluated by external parties (Bloomberg ESG scores). Our results show that companies in environmentally sensitive industries greenwash less than their counterparts in other industries, as well as companies following the GRI guidelines. Companies that issue a sustainability report and assure it greenwash less than those that do not do it. Contrary to our intuition, companies in industries with close proximity and high visibility greenwash more than their counterparts. A limitation of the paper is the inclusion in the sample of data from one country. Our findings have implications for policy-makers, particularly in Europe, where some European states have already regulated on green issues reporting and lately on blue issues. It might be interesting to consider both the industry effect and the relevance of reporting mechanisms when developing regulation and policies in order to improve the quality of sustainability reporting. We contribute to literature by proposing a new quantitative measure to assess greenwashing practices, to better understand the effect of industry and reporting mechanisms on greenwashing.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4024-4045
Number of pages22
JournalEnvironment, Development and Sustainability
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2022


  • ESG scores
  • GRI
  • Greenwashing
  • Reporting
  • Stakeholder
  • Sustainability


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