How to celebrate organisational sustainability and avoid ‘greenhushing’

New research by Earthwatch shows increasing numbers of UK companies engaging in ‘greenhushing’, keeping their climate-related milestones and success stories under wraps.

three crumpled yellow papers on green surface surrounded by yellow lined papers

Overall, around one quarter of firms in the study reported deliberately playing down environmental efforts and sustainability credentials for rear of a public backlash. While this seems at odds with an era in which legislation increasingly requires companies make significant efforts to reduce emissions and other footprints, analysts have pointed to a number of causes for this surprising trend. 

Given the prevalence of negative headlines centres on greenwashing – even when organisations are making good progress in some operational areas – concerns about being labelled hypocritical are now widespread. Meanwhile, others prefer to avoid drawing attention to sustainability efforts in order to better control brand narratives. 

‘Regardless of the motivation for it, greenhushing threatens to be a major barrier to the advancement of sustainable business,’ said Steve Pearce, Group Head of Marketing at Kyocera Document Solutions UK. ‘A fear of backlash or criticism is understandable, but to move their industries forward, organisations must be willing to put their heads above the parapet. After all, if you’ve made genuine efforts to become more sustainable and have concrete evidence to demonstrate your initiatives and their results, you have every reason to celebrate your achievements.’

Transparency is increasingly cited as an essential focal point in corporate and organisation efforts in net zero and other environmental actions, and firms need to be open about what they have done, and limitations of existing policy and processes. While this reflects well in the eyes of consumers, it also helps establish and share best practices allowing the whole-of-market to move forward together. Pearce also recommends the following steps to avoid greenwashing, and maximise the impact and outcome of green efforts: 

Honesty across the board 

‘Maintaining regular and consistent communication with all stakeholders is crucial, including customers, partners and your own staff. This means being willing to share your sustainability triumphs, but also letting everyone know about the obstacles you’re facing and what you’re doing to overcome them. This is key to establishing trust and bolstering relationships with everyone involved with the company. Failing to do so may give the impression that you’re hiding something or are well behind in your environmental efforts.’

Be transparent with concrete evidence

‘Sharing information about your business’ sustainability policies, achievements and targets is crucial in building trust with your customers and stakeholders. To demonstrate your commitment, publishing an annual sustainability report that outlines your progress in this area is essential. Be clear, concise and upfront about everything in this report, and you’ll be better placed to celebrate your achievements in the long run.’

Practice what you preach, internally and externally

‘One reason for greenhushing is when companies can’t confidently back up the bold statements they make externally to what they’re actually doing behind the scenes. Sustainability initiatives should permeate the entire organisation and all employees need to feel involved and included in the process.

‘Any customer-focused green schemes should be backed up by employee-focused initiatives too, such as cycle-to-work schemes and the provision of environmentally friendly office spaces. This enables you to speak publicly about your achievements without fearing criticism or claims of insincerity. Practising what you preach will go a long way in demonstrating your commitment to sustainability.’

More on organisational net zero and sustainability: 

Net-Zero Community invites UK sustainability professionals to London

Organisations invited to commit used workwear for groundbreaking polyester recycling

Full scope: A guide to cutting your supply chain emissions

AI climate reporting leaves nowhere to hide corporate net zero failures

How web scraping helps collect sustainability information



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