From Greenwashing to Machinewashing: A Model and Future Directions Derived from Reasoning by Analogy

Journal of Business Ethics 178 (4):1063-1089 (2022)

Abstract

This article proposes a conceptual mapping to outline salient properties and relations that allow for a knowledge transfer from the well-established greenwashing phenomenon to the more recent machinewashing. We account for relevant dissimilarities, indicating where conceptual boundaries may be drawn. Guided by a “reasoning by analogy” approach, the article addresses the structural analogy and machinewashing idiosyncrasies leading to a novel and theoretically informed model of machinewashing. Consequently, machinewashing is defined as a strategy that organizations adopt to engage in misleading behavior about ethical Artificial Intelligence /algorithmic systems. Machinewashing involves misleading information about ethical AI communicated or omitted via words, visuals, or the underlying algorithm of AI itself. Furthermore, and going beyond greenwashing, machinewashing may be used for symbolic actions such as lobbying and prevention of stricter regulation. By outlining diverse theoretical foundations of the established greenwashing domain and their relation to specific research questions, the article proposes a machinewashing model and a set of theory-related research questions on the macro, meso, and micro-level for future machinewashing research. We conclude by stressing limitations and by outlining practical implications for organizations and policymakers.

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Peter Seele
Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf (PhD)

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