Advertising standards and competition watchdogs around the world are finally clamping down on greenwashing.
Brands can no longer afford to spend more money on PR that makes them look eco-friendly, than they do on actually becoming eco-friendly.
Customers see right through it.
And we’re now seeing ads get banned for it, which increases the scrutiny on any business making green claims.
But while the age of greenwashing may be coming to an end, we’re already seeing a new trend rise up in its place: green hushing.
Companies are increasingly choosing to stay quiet and not publicise details of their climate targets, in an attempt to avoid scrutiny.
It’s easy to see why.
According to research by Coutts, more than a fifth of UK adults have boycotted a brand over the past 12 months because of greenwashing.
And the government itself was told to improve its Net Zero Strategy by the High Court.
When it comes to sustainability, regulation is on its way.
The financial regulators are paying closer attention to ESG.
Advertising watchdogs around the world are keeping a close eye on green claims.
From January 2024, large businesses in the EU will need to disclose data on how their activities impact people and the planet, under the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive, which will initially affect 50,000 companies.
They will be subject to independent auditing and certification, to ensure the data they report is reliable. SMEs will be able to opt-out until 2028, but the trajectory is clear. Regulation is coming.
Sustainability and climate action are moving away from the realms of marketing departments and CSR activity done for a good PR story, and into the field of business continuity, risk and finance. Areas that have a very influential seat around the top tables in the biggest businesses (who are the biggest emitters).
That’s where this conversation needs to be happening for real meaningful action to happen at scale.
We’ve just wrapped up COP27 – surely by now, any corporation that is going to be proactive on climate is already doing it?
Now we need regulation to bring the others up to standard.
Green hushing shows that some companies are running scared.
Tolerance for greenwashing is at an all time low.
They know they can’t bluff their way to a green image any more. And even if they can, it won’t be enough when regulations come into force.
Soon, every business will be navigating a new regulatory landscape, and embedding sustainable business practices will be a compulsory part of operations – not a ‘nice to have’ or a selling point.
But, there’s a major green skills gap across almost all sectors.
Many companies lack the knowledge and skills needed to navigate the path to net zero.
For years, critics of greenwashing have called for companies to embed sustainability in their supply chains and operations before leveraging it in their marketing.
Now, the regulatory landscape is forcing them to.
And while those without the existing practices or skills in place go quiet, there’s an opportunity for the more sustainable businesses to share their progress.
It’s not a competitive advantage, and it won’t sell your products or services for you.
But when positioned carefully as part of your brand strategy, your sustainability skills, credentials and journey so far can be leveraged to help establish you as a business leader.
The concern around the rise of green hushing is understandable.
Without transparency, there can be no accountability.
But the coming regulations will take care of that.
And if brands have retreated to upskill and make sure that their organisations actually walk the walk, that’s not a bad thing.
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Sian is a brand, marketing and communications strategist, sustainability expert, author, and Founder of #EthicalHour. She was the UK Sustainability Influencer of the Year and published her book 'Buy Better Consume Less' in 2021, building on her extensive experience of helping Big Why Business Founders start and scale eco-focused brands and take them mainstream.