Greenwashing vs Green Hushing: how do companies communicate their environmental promises?

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Sustainable. Eco-friendly. Organic.

You only need to take a walk through the supermarket to see these environmental buzzwords jumping out at you from the packaging on every shelf. We’re not just talking about food or household products, though - there are all sorts of companies out there shouting about what they’re doing to be “kind to the planet”. Great, you might think, we’ve all made huge strides in environmental awareness in the last decade alone. Indeed, the fact that brands want to shout about their green credentials means they know making climate-conscious decisions is right up there for consumers when choosing what to buy.

Scratch the surface, though, and there might be more - or indeed less - to these claims than you might think at first glance; and that is where greenwashing comes into play.

Put simply, greenwashing is when a company makes claims about the environmental impact of its products or actions which are either misleading or untrue. You might get an email from a clothing brand shouting about its latest range of “sustainable t-shirts”, but what the marketing doesn’t mention is the damage their other fast fashion practices might be doing to the environment.

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Sometimes greenwashing is almost blatant, but in truth, a lot of it resides in a pretty grey area. Companies who greenwash might not even realise they’re doing it; so focussed are they on improving one set of green credentials, that they totally fail to spot potentially damaging behaviour elsewhere.

Not only that, words like “sustainable” and “eco-friendly” are actually fairly nebulous - so just how easy is it to measure how “climate-friendly” something is, or for consumers to counter those claims.

Indeed, some companies are so afraid of being called out for greenwashing, that they’ve decided shouting about being environmentally friendly isn’t the way to go. Instead, they keep quiet about their climate goals: enter green hushing.

Green hushing is all about avoiding scrutiny. The theory is that if you keep your net zero emissions targets to yourself, however well-thought out they may be, nobody can accuse you of massaging the figures or misleading your customers. It’s easy to understand why some companies might choose to green hush - nobody wants negative publicity after all - but the problem is that the more organisations do it, the more difficult it becomes to keep track of how the global fight against climate change is going.

So just how does any business communicate its environmental goals effectively? It’s tricky, but demonstrating the real-world impact of your behaviour is a start, and we all know that small changes can make a big difference. Take water bottles as an example: 15 years ago, we were all carrying around disposable plastic bottles of mineral water, using them once and then throwing them away. Now, though, most of us carry a reusable metal or glass water bottle with us wherever we go, fill it up for free from the tap, then rinse and repeat when we get home. It’s more cost-effective in the long-run and creates less waste - and the more people that make the switch, the bigger the impact on the environment. That is sustainability in action.

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Here at GreenTheUK, we want to empower companies to make a positive difference to the environment and, crucially, we want that impact to be measurable so that our partners can shout about it. We help businesses find local conservation projects to get involved in, strengthening links with local communities and improving the environment for everyone to enjoy. Our experts have put businesses in touch with schools, farmers and conservation groups to plant hundreds of thousands of trees, support the creation of wildflower meadows and to protect valuable wetland ecosystems.

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The work we champion is rooted in local communities - investing in the area where you live and work so that everyone reaps the rewards together, and that can only be a good thing.