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How to find the golden mean between greenwashing and greenhushing
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Three things you'll learn:
What the two extremes can lead to.
How to avoid greenwashing and greenhushing.
How different companies communicate their sustainable initiatives.
The climate crisis affects our everyday life. We wish for a change - and this will help us on the way for a brighter future. Luckily there is a possibility for companies to lead the way and show how to successfully brand sustainability. There is just one problem; it is quite difficult to avoid greenwashing and greenhushing.
At Abel we have helped RealMæglerne move into a position where they take action on the climate crisis while remaining down-to-earth. We featured the new “My Climate Calculator”, which lets anyone know how to improve their home in regards to its carbon footprint.
Communicating sustainability is a crucial but difficult marketing strategy because finding the perfect balance between the two extremes is hard.
On one side you have greenwashing where companies cheat by “overdoing” their sustainable efforts. On the contrary we have greenhushing, where truly sustainable companies act of silence in fear of facing criticism from the population.
But let us first clarify what the two extremes can lead to:
Can lead to false security.
Can lead to irreparable damage to the brand such as customer and employee flee and bad reputation.
Can lead to the brand's greenwashing initiatives often is so far from the business itself that they do not achieve the competitive advantage they had hoped for (1).
Can lead to fear of being envied by the “sustainability-police”, so companies miss the opportunity to put pressure on the industr or todifferentiate themselves from their competitors and be something people would actually choose them for.
It is clear to everyone what is preferable of those two, but neither is desirable. Not for your company nor for the climate crisis. The question is just; How do you find the golden mean that determines you do not end up at one of the extremes?
At Abel we have researched what other experts say and compiled their best advice together with our own, so it can help your company figure out, how to navigate and find a perfect balance.
Be transparent with your business. Numbers and promises must be factual, relevant and transparent so you do not mislead your consumers.
This information must be made useful as there is no point in publishing a 500-page report about your company's sustainability, if the customers never get to read it. This ends up being a failed attempt to make your company more transparent and inform your customers about your sustainable actions.
But being transparent makes your company take the lead and tell what is happening - both when things are going well and when things are going less good. Transparency increases credibility; when you are willing to talk about the less good things, customers think that the good things you tell are true.
The company Fairphone develop phones that are built modularly, which makes them easy to repair and upgrade over time instead of buying new ones. They have managed to be transparent - and yes, literally transparent. The back of the phone is see-through so the customers are able to see how easy it is to replace the battery themselves. But it is Fairphone’s open source map that gives them an extra touch of transparency. On their website, they expose the brand's entire supply chain. By doing this, it inspires other companies to follow Fairphone’s sustainable strategy, even though it may ultimately hurt Fairphones own business in the long run.
Fresh.Land is another company that succeeded with their branding on sustainability. In addition to the sustainable aspect, they primarily focus on the “freshness” of their products. By introducing a harvest date they make the “freshness” more tangible for their consumers. An initiative that helped create transparency and make the information about “freshness” usable without spending tons of hours on creating an “information overload” just as described in #1.
2: Facts must be communicated
Your company's climate reductions and ambitions must be documented through recognized certifications and independent control. Customers need proof, so they can build up trust (2). With certifications, it is far easier to communicate sustainability, because it is no longer just a claim that the brand is sustainable.
Be honest about where you are on your journey - no one expects you to be 100% carbon neutral right away.
At Organic Basics, sustainability is being thought of throughout the whole business model - from various certifications to their working methods at the factories. They have succeeded because they educate their customers about sustainable manufacturing and sustainable processing of the textiles. On Instagram, they are even in a directly virtual “face-to-face”-contact with customers by doing Q&A’s and live events and show they have nothing to hide.
To avoid greenwashing you have to be clear about the proportions when even small changes are made.
The effect must be put into perspective. The effect should be seen in relation to (a) your company’s imprint and (b) what makes a proportional difference.
Arla, the Nordic’s largest producer of dairy products, has a major impact on the climate. In 2019, they chose to replace the legendary green milk-crates we know as the abiding companion to Puch Maxi, and instead make them from recycled plastic. They made lots of commercials about this. And yes, it was a great initiative, but the problem was they forgot to relate how large (small) the share is of Arla's total climate footprint compared to their milk crates. In the end, they have to communicate according to what really makes a proportional difference for the climate.
Make your initiatives more tangible, so your company will help set the bar for a more sustainable future because making it tangible simplifies your (maybe complex) initiatives. Tangibility makes it objective and removes the discussion, and helps figure out what the world needs to become more sustainable.
For example: Fresh.Land’s harvest date will help set the bar for a food industry that sells old fruit. A harvest date makes it tangible for the consumers because it is no longer a discussion how fresh their fruit is. Freshness can be the taste, the aroma and appearance, and it all depends on the type of fruit and whether or not it is processed. It differs from consumer to consumer how they experience their senses, but one thing is sure; a harvest date is not up for discussion. The harvest date makes it easy for consumers to understand the freshness. And with that premise they stand out from other fruit import brands.
Ultimately, there is an opportunity for your business to show how to brand sustainable initiatives. If you follow our advice above, then you are already riding in the fast lane. But you have to think about how to incorporate sustainability in your marketing from the beginning, be open about the challenges you face and know you can inspire other companies to do the same thing as you did.
If you are interested in learning more about what Abel can do for your company, do not hesitate to contact Marcus Feldthus.