With the increased focus on companies making misleading claims about their environmental record, many are fearful of publishing their sustainability work for fear of it being closely examined.
The world is finally waking up to the practice of greenwashing. After years of companies making misleading claims about their environmental records, governments and regulatory bodies are now setting in place strict rules about what can and cannot be said in marketing communications, as well as the steps companies need to go through to demonstrate the truth of any ecological statement.
But no sooner has the word ‘greenwashing’ become widely known among the public, but a new word is beginning to emerge: greenhushing. Defined as a practice stemming from brands’ fear of appearing to greenwash, greenhushing is becoming more widespread among companies worried about being investigated or asked to provide evidence of their claims – even the ones that are doing great work in sustainability.
Keep Quiet And Carry On
According to a survey by climate consultancy South Pole, despite an increase in the number of companies with science-based targets, nearly a quarter of 1,200 sustainability executives have no plans to publicise their climate goals.
Companies appear to be in a dilemma: Consumers are demanding that they publicise their environmental values and what they are doing about the climate crisis, but they are concerned that any claims will be scrutinised and risk negative publicity.
“Companies are being asked to commit to and demonstrate higher levels of ambition,” explains Aron Cramer, President and CEO of sustainable business group BSR. “At the same time, they can either get social media backlash or encounter legal problems if their message gets too far out ahead of their performance.”
So while many brands are making genuine plans to achieve carbon neutrality, they feel unable to communicate those plans for fear of close examination. This could not only harm their business in the short term, but dissuade other brands from carrying out vital sustainability work.
Honesty Is The Best Policy
Of course, the main concern for the environment when it comes to marketing communications remains the act of greenwashing. Companies are still exaggerating their environmental efforts and downplaying the detrimental effect their emissions are having on climate change. The recent avalanche of adverts around Earth Day from companies with poor environmental records shows that many brands are yet to take greenwashing legislation seriously.
But for those that do, the key to effective and truthful communication is transparency. If a brand is honest about its sustainability work and the challenges it’s facing, then there shouldn’t be any problem. And chances are that their consumers will appreciate their honesty and understand that there is no quick solution to the climate problem.
For more details about the Two Sides Anti-Greenwashing campaign, go to www.twosides.info/anti-greenwash
If you spot any instances of greenwashing, please email the details to [email protected]