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How to Avoid Greenwashing in Marketing, Without Greenhushing

Gone are the days when marketers were free to talk up their company’s eco credentials.

Now, trapped by the twin demons of greenwashing on one hand and greenhushing on the other, the marketing machine is grinding to a halt.

Too exuberant in your eco claims? Greenwashing. Risk the wrath of bodies like the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC). The commercial watchdog has now commenced legal action against Chlorox, the business claiming its GLAD bags are made from 50% recycled ocean plastic.

Fail to mention your environmental initiatives? Greenhushing. Lose out on valuable exposure because you fear being accused of greenwashing. Expose yourself to a raft of public suspicion. Are you trying to hide something dodgy, or screen your initiatives from essential fact-checking and scrutiny?

Green credentials book

The solution to this paralysis is surprisingly simple. You need experienced content writers who know how to navigate the increasingly thorny ground of sustainability claims.

In practice, this means understanding the broader national and global implications; knowing how to source the relevant facts; then presenting them in a balanced way.

No gimmicks, no bluster, no overblown claims, no smoke and mirrors. The truth, as part of your net zero journey, is far more compelling.

Greenwashing. Too big to handle.

‘Greenwashing’ refers to companies trying to get a competitive advantage by exaggerating or over-inflating their sustainability practices.

Greenwashing

To date, it’s not a pretty picture.

In 2023, a global RepRisk study showed a worldwide hike in the number of companies using greenwashing, with a 70% increase in banking and financial sectors over the previous 12 months.

Between September 2018 and September 2023, 31% of publicly listed companies who greenwashed were also linked to social washing – misrepresenting profit-driven measures as social responsibility initiatives.

An internet sweep by the ACCC in 2023 found more than half the businesses under review made ‘concerning claims’ about their eco sustainability practices.

ASIC revealed it carried out 35 interventions last year against listed companies, managed funds and superannuation funds who had misrepresented their green credentials to the public and potential investors.

Greenhushing. Too hot to touch.

‘Greenhushing’ refers to the under-reporting of a company’s environmental and sustainability initiatives.

Many brands have become so worried about potential backlash or legal action over greenwashing, they are choosing not to publicise their genuine achievements.

Writing on sustainability illustration

With the ACCC and ASIC taking action against companies making overblown green claims, it may seem safer to avoid the legal, financial and reputational risks altogether.

Yet this not only means losing out on potential business, it makes it impossible to gain a clear picture of broader sustainability measures across the economy.

Lack of transparency limits the sharing of industry best practices, makes it harder for stakeholders to make informed decisions, and slows down efforts to address environmental challenges as a society.

Motives are not always dishonest. Confusion around the guidelines on environmental claims, which are constantly being updated, can make compliance tricky. In other instances, companies don’t even realise they should be talking about sustainability.

They choose sustainable practices to satisfy their own environmental inclinations. They don’t think their customers will be interested. They don’t see their backstory and values as key to boosting their online brand.

Or they don’t know how to communicate what they’re doing, what they’re not doing, and how they want to bridge the gap.

How to walk the line

Okay, so greenwashing is a stressor, and greenhushing is a headache. Neither are good for you or your business.

Fortunately, there is a way to avoid greenwashing while publicising your eco achievements. Here are some tips:

Mind your language

A 2023 European Commission study found that more than half of the green claims they investigated were ‘vague, misleading or unfounded’. As reported by the Financial Times, new EC laws will make it compulsory to substantiate claims like ‘green’, ‘eco-friendly’, ‘100% recycled’ and ‘all natural ingredients’. In Australia, ASIC is hot on the heels of rule-breakers. So, if you describe yourself as ‘carbon neutral’, be prepared to prove it. Otherwise, risk legal action and brand damage.

Be prepared to prove your claims

Study the current rules thoroughly, making sure you understand and comply with all relevant government regulations. Be ready and willing to support all the claims you make with documented proof.

Celebrate what you’ve achieved, however modest

Be honest about the areas you excel in, and those which still require work. Distinguish between what you’ve achieved, and what you aspire to do. People respect transparency and admire genuine intentions. After all, net zero is a work in progress – a marathon, not a sprint.

Greenhushing and sustainability

Use copywriters with compliance expertise

With the right copywriters on board, you can tell a sustainability story with truth and impact – wherever you happen to be on the road to net zero 2050. Align your message with facts, industry requirements and public expectations. Ensure your marketing content reflects your company’s values and background. Tell your unique business story, while seeking and monitoring customer feedback.

By educating your customers and staff, you can take them with you on the journey, while staying within the legal and ethical lines.

Need copywriters with experience in creating copy that avoids greenwashing in marketing? Contact the team at Article Writers Australia.

Article Writers Australia is a content agency in Sydney, specialising in articles, whitepapers, case studies, website copywriting and blog management.

Wendy Riiley - Copywriter
Wendy Riley
Journalist and Copywriter at Article Writers Australia | + posts

Wendy is a journalist and copywriter with substantial experience in multiple topic areas including energy, renewables, economics and business. She is also an award winning short story writer.

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