Openwashing – the new Greenwashing

A recent NY Times article describes a new company called OpenEd Solutions. The article describes OpenEd Solutions’ involvement in the failed attempt to launch charter schools in New York and Newark.

Having been there, I understand that establishing a charter school is an “interesting” process, so I’ll withhold judgment on that part of the story. What really bothers me about the whole thing is that the company is called Open Education Solutions. Their website states,

Open Education Solutions is a blended learning service provider. We help states, districts and school networks design schools and solutions that are innovative, personalized and deliver better results at the same or lower cost.

So why aren’t they called Blended Education Solutions? This looks to be a rather high-profile case of what we should probably call “openwashing.” Wikipedia describes the history of the term greenwashing as follows:

The term greenwashing was coined by New York environmentalist Jay Westerveld in a 1986 essay regarding the hotel industry’s practice of placing placards in each room promoting reuse of towels ostensibly to “save the environment”. Westerveld noted that, in most cases, little or no effort toward reducing energy waste was being made by these institutions — as evidenced by the lack of cost reduction this practice effected. Westerveld opined that the actual objective of this “green campaign” on the part of many hoteliers was, in fact, increased profit. Westerveld thus labeled this and other outwardly environmentally conscientious acts with a greater, underlying purpose of profit increase as greenwashing.

If you dig far enough into the OpenEd Solutions website, you’ll see that one of the services they offer is “Develop and integrate open resources to power blended K-12 schools.” But it appears to be a tiny aspect of what is obviously a blended learning consultancy. I mean, another one of their services is “Turnkey tablet solutions, blended apps, and professional development tools.” Perhaps they should have called themselves Tablet Education Solutions.

It upsets me greatly to see people misappropriate the term so many of us have worked so long and hard to establish and build up. This is why the Open Source Initiative trademarked the term “open source,” so they could make sure it maintained a specific meaning and wasn’t used to mislead consumers. I’m sorry to say that this is likely only the first of many uses of “Open Education” by a company that appears to have very little or nothing to do with promoting open education. Darn.

9 thoughts on “Openwashing – the new Greenwashing”

  1. Agreed, but the more important question is – will commercialism corrupt the thing itself, or only the copy forked by commercialism?

  2. I think you are on the leading edge of this, David. One interesting way to mitigate it would be to encourage a standards organization to trademark some type of OER certification label. That approach tends to get the attention of both consumers and government.

    The “GF” trademark emerging in gluten free foods is an interesting recent example. If it takes off, it should slow down the “gluten free” labeling abuse and give the government the framework it needs to help enforce it. Mostly it just clarifies what the concept should mean which is something that would be useful for consumers interested in open educational resources.

  3. Wow. I had to check the URL to see where i was 🙂

    It’s really the difference between dreaming about a future and planning for one. The open source example is a model we might consider following. Why don’t you get on that 🙂

    pragmatism over zeal indeed.

  4. David, we make use of and advocate for OER where possible. We’re working on a series of open apps (cc licensed). I’d be happy to share the plan if you’re interested. Tom Vander Ark

  5. This is why the Open Source Initiative trademarked the term “open source,” so they could make sure it maintained a specific meaning and wasn’t used to mislead consumers.

    No they didn’t. There was much discussion of doing so, but the term was too descriptive and in general use. OSI has trademarked its own name and logo, and has given permission to use the OSI name and logo if one uses “open source” to describe software licensed under an OSI-approved license. See

    Openwashing has long been a problem in various domains, but there’s no killer solution, other than calling it out and increasing people’s understanding of what “open” ought mean, just like green[washing].

  6. Jay Westerveld greatly exaggerates his contributions to environmental
    preservation. Not only are his claims blatantly false,he is also a well
    known con artists using several fraudulent workers compensation claims
    to fund his equally bogus “snowboarding career”. Don’t be fooled by
    this man, you are much smarter than he is.

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