Companies and entities using carbon washing use claims of carbon neutrality, a negative CO2 footprint, neutralizing their carbon footprint, or proclaiming themselves as "net-zero" companies without having gone through the necessary steps to achieve this status. In this way, companies communicate actions they have taken to benefit the environment that they have not done and wrongly claim credit for reducing carbon emissions.
By using carbon washing techniques, companies rely on the fact that the terminology associated with carbon offsetting has only recently come into general use. Understanding its nuances is still challenging for some audiences.
An example of carbon washing is the claim by oil companies that their carbon footprint is low and easy to neutralize. In calculating such a "low" carbon footprint, however, oil companies conveniently forget about Scope 3 emissions, which are also included in a company's or product's carbon footprint. Scope 3 includes indirect emissions resulting from, among others, the product use by end customers. In this way, oil companies only count the emissions from the extraction, distribution, and sale of fuels, forgetting about Scope 3, which is the emissions from the use of their product (in this case, from the combustion of fuels).