The greenhushing trap and how to avoid it
Are you a business owner or marketer who’s terrified of accidentally greenwashing?
As a result, do you downplay your company’s sustainability efforts? Are there positive things you’re doing that you’re not talking about?
If so, you might have fallen into the trap of greenwashing’s shy & quiet sibling: greenhushing.
What is greenhushing?
Greenhushing is when a company doesn’t talk about what it’s doing to be more sustainable. Talk of sustainability is often nowhere to be found on their website or product packaging.
There are various reasons this might happen, but often it’s for fear of getting it “wrong” and being accused of greenwashing.
Greenwashing vs. greenhushing
While greenwashing is exaggerating how sustainable you are – for example, by making unsubstantiated claims, using vague language about sustainability or even using green or “eco”- looking packaging – greenhushing is hardly mentioning sustainability, if at all.
Why do companies greenhush?
There are various reasons why a business might keep quiet about their sustainability. The main ones are:
- They’re worried they’re not doing enough
Awareness of climate change is on the rise and businesses are being held to account. That’s great, but it can be daunting, especially for smaller businesses! If you’re not a sustainability expert you might worry that you’ll be called out for not doing enough or doing the wrong thing.
- They don’t want to be accused of greenwashing
With the rise in eco-awareness has come a rise in greenwashing. Since 2022 the CMA and the ASA have been cracking down on greenwashers – companies like Persil, Hyundai and Unilever have had adverts banned and companies could be fined thousands for breaking the rules. It’s understandable that businesses are scared to accidentally exaggerate their claims and get caught out.
- They don’t know how to talk about sustainability
Sustainability is complex and it can be hard to talk about it in a concise and engaging well. You need to be accurate and informative but still retain your company’s tone of voice and messaging. It’s no mean feat! So some businesses avoid doing it altogether.
- They’re trying to deliberately conceal poor sustainability credentials
This won’t be the case for most businesses, but some large corporates do use greenhushing as a deliberate tactic to avoid scrutiny – because they’re not making much effort on sustainability. For example, banks often underreport on ESG because the numbers aren’t good.
What’s the problem with greenhushing?
Greenhushing is an easy trap to fall into. If that’s you, here are some reasons you might want to address it:
- You’re missing out on a chance to show off your great work!
So many companies are doing great sustainability stuff behind the scenes, but no one knows about it! Of course, sustainability shouldn’t be seen purely as a marketing exercise. However, if you’re genuinely committed to taking action, this is something your customers will want to hear about.
- You’re making it harder for people to make conscious choices
Conscious consumption is on the rise: people want to buy products that align with their values. If you’ve got a product with a lower carbon footprint than the competitor, then communicating that to customers helps people buy better.
- Transparency builds trust
You might be scared that you’re not doing enough when it comes to sustainability – or that you’re getting it wrong. But the key to building your customers’ trust is being honest and transparent. Everyone knows that sustainability is complex and difficult, but people appreciate honesty. Sharing where you are on your journey and being receptive to feedback on what you could do better is more likely to win you loyal customers than not sharing any information about what you’re doing.
How to conquer greenhushing and talk about sustainability
So, it’s time to be brave and write about what your company is doing for the planet. But how?
These tips will help you communicate what you’re doing clearly, without going in the other direction and greenwashing.
- Avoid vague language
The easiest way to accidentally greenwash is to use vague terms like “sustainable” and “eco-friendly” without stating what you actually mean. These terms are subjective. Do you mean recycled? Do you mean powered by green energy? Do you mean plastic-free? Be as specific as possible. Check out my blog post on 3 swaps for the word “sustainable” for more ideas!
- Keep it factual
You can’t go too far wrong by focusing on the facts. Tell customers what systems you have in place, which sustainable materials you use for your products, how much carbon you use in your operations etc. The more verifiable data you can use the better.
- Make sustainability information easy to find
Don’t have your sustainability commitments hidden away. Conscious consumers will often check out what you’re doing to be sustainable before making a purchase, so make your sustainability report or impact page is easy to navigate to on your website.
On product labels, include as much information as you can on the actual packaging, and if it’s too wordy, you could include a QR code to a web page with more information.
To be as transparent as possible, make as much of your sustainability data publicly available as you can: whether that’s a carbon audit, lifecycle assessments or information on your supply chains.
- Say what you’re not doing *yet*
A lesser-known aspect of greenwashing is something called the halo effect. It’s when a company talks about something good they’re doing but fails to mention other not-so-great stuff. It gives consumers the impression that they’re a great company and doing everything possible to tackle climate change, when in reality that might not be the case.
It’s ok to not have achieved everything you want to yet when it comes to sustainability. If you’re overhauling existing operations, it’s not going to happen overnight. The important thing is to be transparent about your future plans and what you haven’t achieved yet.
- Get certified
Third-party sustainability certifications are a good way to show your sustainability credentials. They help to build trust and reputation. They can also make it easier to communicate as you can simply display the certification badges to indicate that you’ve met certain standards.
Need a hand overcoming the hush?
This stuff is my bread and butter, so if you’d like a helping hand writing about sustainability, I’d be happy to help. Whether it’s a sustainability report, an impact page for your website or an informative blog post, I’ve got you covered. Get in touch and we can chat about what you’re looking for and how I can help!