(Originally reported by WEMU on 1/19/15:

‘Brownwashing’, as it is called, isn’t what one would expect.

A University of Michigan studied has identified a new way some businesses misrepresent their environmental track record. The method might come as a surprise.

Environmentalists often worry that companies are greenwashing, or overstating their environmentally-friendly practices. A new U-M study found some utilities are under-reporting their green efforts. Professor Tom Lyon says what companies communicate depends on what audience they need to address. This mean companies that are growing and in need of regulatory approval may greenwash, while struggling companies have other concerns. Lyon stated that if struggling companies are “trying to appease investors who are pressuring them not to waste precious financial resources, then they brownwash.”

Lyon says it appears to be a backlash against the belief that it always pays to be green. Lyon hopes to continue his research in other industries, and in other countries.

Greenwash vs. Brownwash: Exaggeration and Undue Modesty in Corporate Sustainability Disclosure
By Eun-Hee Kim and Thomas P. Lyon