According to the Green Business Bureau, in 42 percent of cases, green claims by businesses were false, deceptive, or exaggerated. Additionally, 37 percent of cases of green claims included general and vague statements, utilising terms like sustainable and eco-friendly with very little information to establish p how the products met these credentials.
Greenwashing has become an incredibly common practice over the past number of years to the point where most consumers are sceptical of brands speaking about their sustainability strategies. Green hushing is a more recent practice that is on the rise, and it can be viewed as a reaction to greenwashing.
It is where brands adopt a radio-silence approach to climate goals. They may have sustainability strategies and commitments but are not transparent about these efforts. Continue reading to learn about the differences between greenwashing vs green hushing and what they mean for businesses.
A recap on greenwashing
It seems only right to give a bit of a recap on greenwashing and what it entails. Put simply, greenwashing is the practice of making misleading or false claims about the environmental benefits of a service or product. Businesses that greenwash often spend more money and time on marketing themselves than making their organisation more environmentally responsible.
The term ‘greenwashing’ was first coined by environmentalist, Jay Westerveld in 1986, in a critical essay inspired by the irony of the ‘save the towel’ movement in hotels that had very little impact besides saving hotels money in laundry costs. Over the years, companies that engaged in widespread greenwashing have garnered public attention.
For example, when oil company Chevron commissioned a series of print and television ads about its dedication to the planet. However, Chevron was actively breaking the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act while the infamous “People Do” campaign was in effect, pouring oil into wildlife sanctuaries. Unfortunately, Chevron is not the only business that has been involved in a greenwashing scandal. Greenwashing has been on the rise since sustainability has become such an important checkbox for consumers.
What is green hushing?
Green hushing is a relatively new concept that refers to businesses purposely remaining quiet regarding their sustainability progress and goals, even if they are doing well, for fear they will be labelled as greenwashers. It is simply playing down your environmental policies out of concern that disclosing them may diminish the credibility of your company or have unfavourable effects on your business.
While the term ‘green hushing’ was coined in the late-2000s, it has remained obscure and under the radar. Green hushing is where a company avoids publicising its environmental accomplishments. Where greenwashing involves a business exaggerating its sustainable policies, green hushers are hush-hush about what they are doing to make their business a force for good.
They will not even acknowledge that they have sustainable policies or practices. One report from a climate consultancy, South Pole, discovered that of 1200 private companies they surveyed that are global climate leaders, almost a quarter have not shared their sustainability milestones and achievements with the world. The majority of analysts also agree that green hushing is increasingly common.
Some feel it is due to the speed of news and social media and how quickly a reputation can be impacted. Others worry about the likelihood of lawsuits and backlash from consumers even if they are doing good things. There are two main reasons businesses engage in green hushing. The first is that they worry about being called out or receiving backlash if they fall short of their stated targets. Additionally, businesses worry they may be called out for greenwashing by being open and transparent.
What does it mean for businesses?
Now that you know the differences between greenwashing and green hushing, let’s dive into how these practices affect businesses.
has many negative effects on businesses. For one thing, it undermines brand image. This is because when consumers realise the claims you make are not true, they will likely shun the company, leave negative reviews, and share this experience. It’s well-known that whenever a business is exposed for overreaching its sustainability claims, a backlash occurs. Ultimately, the brand’s image takes a significant hit.
This hit can result in a drop in sales because consumers go as far as boycotting the enterprise. It is essential to understand the negative effects of this practice before you decide to deploy it. Another big disadvantage is that you are claiming to have a positive impact on the environment, but no impact is being made. People want to make eco-conscious decisions to help the planet, and marketing products as sustainable when they are not, cause them to contribute to unintentional adverse environmental impacts.
Greenwashing also causes customers to lose trust. This is because these misleading claims can essentially be deemed as lying and deceitful. Naturally, customers are less likely to support brands that do these things. Businesses engaging in greenwashing also run the risk of being reported for their communications or advertisements to the local consumer protection authority. This authority can open up its own independent investigations on such claims.
If they find the brand has everything needed, when it comes to the accuracy and precision of the claims, therefore giving them a clean bill of performance, the period of time during which the investigation is open can create additional stress to the business under inquiry. By contrast, if the brand is found to have engaged in greenwashing, there can be legal repercussions that also harm the brand image and reputation, as well as cost a significant amount of money.
One of the biggest differences between greenwashing and green hushing is the implications. For green hushing, there are fewer implications. Overall, it is not an ideal practice as it limits transparency. In other words, businesses that discuss what they are doing to help the planet have positive knock-on effects and spark change. The same cannot be said if brands are silent about their sustainability strategies and impact.
Unfortunately, there is a trend of attacking businesses no matter how great their intentions or actions are. With this, it is easy to understand why some brands may fear or be hesitant regarding communicating their climate efforts.
In some countries, greenwashing laws have been developed, and while this may lessen greenwashing, it could heighten green hushing. This is because green hushing is often used as a practice to prevent being called out for greenwashing. Green hushing may also receive the same brunt as greenwashing since the two are intrinsically linked.
Some critics even believe green hushing to be an example of greenwashing because businesses have no public benchmark despite claiming to be taking climate action. Businesses that green hush believe there is minimal value and lots of risks in being entirely open and transparent surrounding their climate goals.
Even if they have confidence in their climate goals, they do not want to openly brag about them as they are frightened they will receive backlash. Whilst the practice is not as extreme or deceitful as greenwashing, it is still based on the principle of avoiding transparency and omitting. They are too missing an opportunity to educate consumers on the importance of sustainability and inspire action.
Green hushing is a simple chain in that it can place companies at odds with their ESG goals. These ESG goals are often partially motivated by investors and other stakeholders who are increasingly aware of their ESG obligations. Naturally, investors want the businesses they are supporting to communicate their efforts. The concept of green hushing is becoming more common, and it is widely agreed brands should take it as a wake-up call.
Summary – How can businesses avoid greenwashing and green hushing
Businesses can avoid green hushing by creating achievable and meaningful sustainability strategies that their entire organisation can commit to. This means that the enterprise must understand exactly what their climate targets mean and how exactly they can reach them In terms of avoiding greenwashing, brands need to make their claims clear and accessible.
For example, including details like specific units of measurement and certain certifications from credible third-party sustainable organisations. They also must back up their sustainability claims with available data. In addition, be honest about where the business is on its sustainability journey and make strides to clean up its operations.
You cannot just sell one eco-friendly product; you need to walk the talk, too, by embedding sustainability into your business model and operations. The language used in marketing and ads should never be misleading either, and businesses must be honest about the brand’s sustainability plans and practices.
Building a more responsible business is a journey and a very worthwhile one for the planet but also has many advantages for businesses. Embedding sustainability into your business model will give you a competitive advantage, increase customer loyalty and trust, and may increase sales.
If you are looking to transform your business and prioritise the planet as well as growth and profit, our Diploma in Business Sustainability Course may be for you. The course will allow you to build your knowledge of sustainability, and you will learn from expert industry leaders how to make environmental action part of your DNA.