With 73 per cent of new investors preferring to choose investments that support positive change for the planet and its people, having strong environmental, social and governance credentials without greenwashing is the expectation rather than the exception for every business.
But how can any business tell the truth about its green credentials, if its data is inaccurate and unsupported? I can’t think of a single organisation that would choose to be known as misleading, but I can understand why companies might unknowingly slip into greenwashing. Or even worse, green hushing.
So, let’s take a step back and reassess the obstacles that are holding these corporations back from telling the whole story and truth.
Green hushing: a new concept
Green hushing is when a brand or company deliberately underreports their sustainable practices, something I see all the time in the fintech sector. Many businesses are hesitant to share their sustainability initiatives for fear of being accused of not doing enough or that their initiatives are seen as not being enough by customers, leading to backlash from consumers.
But, if you don’t tell your clients, customers or investors what you’re doing, they don’t feel part of your journey and you ultimately end up alienating an entire group of people, who you need to buy into your business.
It’s the opposite of greenwashing, which is when ‘marketing portrays a company’s products, activities or policies as producing positive environmental outcomes when this is not the case. In other words, greenwashing is when businesses deceive their customers to appear more eco-friendly and profit from increasing scrutiny.
Spotlight: The Middle East
The Middle East will come under intense scrutiny in the coming two years in part due to the upcoming UN Climate Change Conference COP27 taking place in both Egypt and the UAE. With this spotlight comes the pressure on corporations in those countries to work quickly and align themselves with their government’s climate and social strategies.
But how can the Egyptian and the Emirati businesses align with their country’s sustainability vision, if the plan of how exactly it will come to life is not laid out for them clearly?
The key differentiator will be the businesses, that are transparent in saying they’re not getting everything right but are working towards it.
Whether we like it or not, greenwashing is inevitable when the infrastructure is not there. My prediction is that the region will be infested with greenwashing claims in the coming years due to the intense pressure of bringing about green change, but with no clear plan. And, to a certain point, that’s fine, as long as businesses openly admit inaccuracies and are authentically trying their best to tell their story. Better than green hushing and hiding what they’ve done.
Here’s how to avoid irreversible reputational damage if you’re to make claims about your sustainable actions and plans:
1. Put your people and planet policy in place and act on it. This is the most vital step. The policy can focus more on your social impact if you’re not confident with your environmental impact. You can’t market your sustainability credentials until you’ve earned them with actions.
2. Be honest. Customers are going to be much more drawn toward an organisation that’s doing its best and being honest about not getting everything exactly right.
3. Communicate clearly and have all data readily available. If you’ve followed step one this should be easy. At this point, you’re just highlighting all the positive work you’ve done.
4. Be consistent. This is a ‘do as I do’ scenario. If you’re marketing yourself as a responsible company, it needs to run through the veins of your business rather than being an arm of the organisation.
5. Own what you didn’t get right, celebrate your successes, communicate then act on your challenges: that’s how change is created.
Greenwashing and Greenhushing are one of the key risks to your organisation’s reputation, but learning to market ethically is a journey you need to own. Customers and stakeholders will forgive you for not being environmentally perfect, but only if you are transparent and honest about your progress, while clearly and accessibly reporting your ESG data.