Greenhushing: What is it, and Could it be Even Worse Than Greenwashing?

By Cat • 21 December 2021

As savvy modern consumers, when it comes to marketing campaigns, we like to think we’re all immune to the sneaky attempts of greenwashing to win us over. As the CMA starts to crack down on the sustainability claims that many businesses make (with the introduction of the Green Claims Code following their extensive investigation into the same topic in 2020,) when it comes to meaningless “eco waffle” in marketing, we’re starting to see the tide turning.

Surely, this can only be a good thing for the planet? But concerns are mounting – could public mistrust and an ever-increasing regulatory burden be having a negative impact on businesses genuinely trying to do the right thing? Has the pendulum swung too far in the opposite direction? Should we be concerned about the phenomenon of greenhushing?

What is Greenhushing?

In many ways, greenwashing could be described as the opposite of greenwashing. While in one case, businesses are overstating, exaggerating or even making downright misleading claims about the impact of their sustainability actions, when it comes to greenwashing, the reserves can be said to be true.

Instead of shouting their sustainability practices from the rooftops, businesses are concerned that “sticking their heads above the parapet” in this manner could make them an easy target for criticism.

Some worry that they’ll be accused of not doing enough for our planet, while others fear that they’ll be labelled as hypocrites, if every aspect of their business has not been perfectly optimised for sustainability.

So, instead of promoting and positioning themselves as a brand trying to do it’s bit to become greener and more ecologically friendly, these hard-working businesses undersell themselves and their efforts.

Greenhushing in the Wild

Let’s take the example of regenerative flower farming and floristry business, Petalon. This inspirational brand has been quietly moving mountains to make a difference at all levels of their operation, from donating huge portions of their profits to eco-charities, through to providing greener delivery options and working hard to bring back biodiversity to their working farm.

You’d think that they’d be confidently stating these objectives through all channels, and yet their hesitance provides the perfect example of the reasons great businesses find themselves keeping quiet…

Historically we have been hesitant to discuss the environmental impact of our products in open and honest terms because of the inevitable friction that follows. Our aim has been to try and make good decisions but still keep quiet about them in case people didn’t see what we were doing as “enough.

Read more about their journey towards sustainability and approach towards positioning as an environmentally sound brand here.

Why is Greenhushing Problematic?

If brands are keeping quiet about the good they’re doing, is this harming anyone? After all, their impact on the planet is reduced regardless of whether they shout about it in their latest advertisement campaign…

Well, yes. Unfortunately, we believe that greenwashing has a harmful impact that goes far beyond the brand in question missing out on a few pats on the back. Let’s explore the key issues that make greenhushing so problematic.

Brands aren’t rewarded for their good deeds

Most obviously – the brands doing the right thing aren’t benefiting from their acts of altruistism. If sustainability was cheap, everyone would be running an eco brand. Unfortunately, we know that making greener choices can often carry a higher financial outlay.

When they know that they’re being offered a greener option or alternative, customers are often happy to pay a premium. If your products are not being offered in the context of being more sustainable, it can be hard to recoup the costs of doing the right thing.

It’s hard to follow an example you don’t know about.

We also need to consider the impact of brands hiding their achievements on other businesses who would otherwise have been inspired by their actions. When a close competitor differentiates on sustainability, you’re probably going to have to raise your game to match their efforts at the very least…

If brands continue to undersell themselves when it comes to their efforts to reduce their impact, no one else is raising their game, and customers aren’t holding other brands accountable to higher standards…

It leaves the spotlight shining on the greenwashers

And finally, while the brands doing the right thing aren’t catching our attention? The brands who are peddling misleading greenwashed claims stay front and centre…

Greenhushing: What Can we do to Solve This Problem?

Hopefully by this point, you’re onboard with the negative impact that greenhushing can have on commerce. So, what can we do to reduce the isse? 

Show vocal support for the brands doing their bit

Let’s create a culture that is strongly supportive of the brands who are going the extra mile for our planet. By doing so, we’ll create an atmosphere in which businesses can feel more confident of support when it comes to the reception that their sustainability efforts will receive.

Praise progress over perfection

By placing the focus on progress over perfection, we can create a more realistic climate in which other brands can feel more encouraged and supported in terms of the efforts they’re already making.

Fight cancel culture

Don’t participate in pile ons or “all or nothing” witch hunts against brands who have been accused of hypocrisy – especially if you don’t think they’ve consciously tried to greenwash their marketing campaigns or operational practices.

Be honest about our own efforts

Don’t greenhush your own business! If we’re going to fight greenhushing, the battle starts with our own brands. Transparency is key – talk about what you’re doing, what you’d like to be doing, and what you plan to do. Sharing is, quite literally, caring.

Commit to becoming part of a supportive community

Connect with other commerce businesses and learn more about their efforts – chances are this will help you feel much more secure about the steps you’re taking, and as an added bonus, you’ll get additional ideas and inspiration from your like minded peers.

Greenhushing: Let’s Kick it to the Curb

Thanks to increased awareness and public scrutiny, greenwashing is (hopefully) on its way out. Let’s not forget about its harmful partner in crime, greenhushing. By creating a more open, honest, transparent and supportive environment for sustainability efforts to be shared, we can ensure that the brands doing the right thing are able to lead from the front, and be rewarded for their efforts. Join the fight against greenhushing – connect with brands and businesses who are also on a mission to make retail a cleaner, greener industry.