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  • Justin Wright

Which is worse: Washing or Hushing?

Rarely does anyone in the public eye miss an opportunity to tell the world what they’re doing for good causes, a trait mocked by spoof DJs Smashy & Nicey, coining the phrase: “I do a lotta work for charity but I don’t like to talk about it”.

In contrast, our recent experience with brands & businesses has been a growing reluctance to talk about any of the good work they are doing to progress their sustainability agenda for fear of being called out for ‘greenwashing’. In some cases, the legal advice is to avoid making any claims in case it shines a light on the issues that are yet to be addressed. This hesitancy is widely being called ‘greenhushing’.

So this raises the question of which is worse: greenwashing or greenhushing? You see, the risk of not shouting about your successes is that the outside world assumes you’re doing nothing – a reputational risk in its own right. All the while you’re failing to build goodwill with consumers, customers & stakeholders, the greater the potential harm if and when something does go wrong, because you have no credits in the bank. And if everyone believes you’re doing nothing they’re probably thinking you don’t even care about these important issues, increasing the risk of switching to brands & businesses that are brave enough to talk about their sustainability efforts.

From our learnings, the outside world generally understands that sustainability challenges are difficult and not everything can be fixed overnight. Nobody expects perfection, but intent and effort are non-negotiables. If you have a positive story to tell, tell it – but keep the tone of voice humble and acknowledge the journey is far from over. If you don’t do it, others will, and like most aspects of business, first-mover advantage counts for a lot. Once consumers make judgements about brands and businesses, you have to work doubly hard to reverse the perceptions.

So in our view, greenhushing could pose an equal threat to brand & business reputation as greenwashing. Just be choiceful, honest and humble – and be proud of the efforts your teams have made in pushing forwards this challenging agenda. Recognition drives motivation and that will prove invaluable.

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