A New Report Exposes A Worrying Trend - What Does it Mean for Corporate Sustainability Communications?

communications sustainability report sustainable business Jan 23, 2024

Imagine it’s 2005. You work for a well-known clothing brand and your company just released their first collection of goods made with recycled polyester. The products hit stores and retailers with splashy marketing claiming the clothes are “eco-friendly,” “green,” or “recycled.” Consumers love it and sales for the brand have never been better.

Fast forward and it’s now 2023. You still work for the same brand, but things are very different from those days in the early 2000’s. Your company has expanded your sustainability initiatives and more products than ever before have attributes to help reduce impacts. However, leadership is taking a more cautious approach and seems to be holding back on sending the product out to market with that same splashy marketing. They’ve seen a number of brands, just like your own, come under fire by consumers and NGOs for greenwashing. Lawsuits and PR nightmares are the new norm and leadership doesn’t know where to go from here.

Now, it’s 2024 and your brand has decided not to say anything about your sustainability progress and initiatives. You’re disappointed because you know the brand has come a long way and employees have put a lot of hard work into cleaning up the business. You wonder to yourself if sustainability communications will remain this way forever and what that could mean for the movement…

Greenhushing is one of the most troubling trends expected throughout 2024, having first gained momentum in late 2022. While greenwashing overstates a company’s sustainability commitments and accomplishments, greenhushing hides in the shadows, keeping successful climate work from seeing the light of day. 

Greenhushing has come to dominate the corporate sustainability space, but why? And, why does it matter?

South Pole, a well-known climate consultancy organization, released a new report examining why greenhushing has become the new norm and what challenges that presents for sustainability progress moving forward. If you are unable to download the report from South Pole, Grist has a breakdown of the report that can be found here.

As you explore the data, it’s evident that greenhushing is on the rise and it’s likely tied to the tidal wave of regulations that have been implemented in a number of key markets. Europe has been leading the charge in recent years, with the U.S. steadily catching up. However, this poses an alignment challenge for these two major regions. 

A common feeling we’ve heard from our clients is frustration over the lack of consistency between the U.S. and Europe. One region has strict laws in place, while the other has fluctuating, ever-evolving rules. You can make one claim in one region and could get slapped with a fine in the other. Therefore, brands are making the decision to keep things easy by not saying anything. 

The dangerous thing about keeping quiet on your sustainability commitments is that consumer demand for products deemed sustainable is growing, and without proper marketing that tells them how the product is better for people and the planet, brands will likely face backlash for what appears to be “doing nothing.”

It may be easier to keep quiet about your sustainability progress, but the industry needs voices speaking up to keep the movement going. 

Investing in the proper communication tools is vital. The EU’s new greenwashing ban restricts unsubstantiated sustainability claims, but using globally recognized certifications is one of the best ways to get your message across. These include Textile Exchange’s list of materials standards, Oeko-Tex’s chemistry standards, and countless others that are certified by third-party auditing groups like NSF, QAI, and more. 

The same is also true for non-material impacts. Traceability is one of the most vital elements needed in sustainable fashion and there are countless tools out there that can verify where your products came from and who made them. Aware, TrusTrace, and FibreTrace can all help you communicate to consumers where each phase of production occurred around the world.

It is undoubtedly tricky and requires collaboration with the legal department at your brand, but communicating sustainability initiatives isn’t impossible.

Imagine it’s 2030. The sustainability movement is still fraught with challenges, but there’s more hope than ever before. Is your brand a leader or a laggard? What do you want the brand to be known for?

If your brand is ready to tackle sustainability and climate action, sign up for our School of Understanding or jump on a call with us to get more details. 

Thanks, and we'll see you next week!


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