Charlotte Cassells, commercial and IP solicitor at Shakespeare Martineau, a certified B Corporation, discusses what businesses can do to promote their green credentials without falling foul of scrutiny by consumers or regulators.
Greenwashing has become a popular buzzword to describe how businesses mislead consumers through advertising by making environmental claims about products or services that do not stand up to scrutiny.
Companies face great pressure to invest time and resources into Environmental Social and Governance (ESG) policies, and be transparent on how their carbon neutral and sustainability goals are achieved. However, as the climate of fear for being caught out grows, many businesses are reacting by choosing not to promote their “green” activities or results altogether to avoid public backlash, in a developing trend known as greenhushing.
Greenhushing is bad for all – if businesses keep quiet or under-promise on their environmental pledges, this sets a trend in the marketplace for others to follow suit, taking the green agenda out of the public sphere. This withdrawal will have a negative impact, as publicising green measures often acts as a means of sharing ideas and allows brands to easily implement each other’s strategies, raising the collective standards of what is expected.
With it appearing as if businesses are caught between a rock and a hard place, how can accusations of greenwashing or greenhushing be avoided?
The most important step is to be as accurate and transparent as possible, and hold evidence that objectively substantiates any claims to ensure they stand up to scrutiny should the business be accused of greenwashing. While there are currently no UK laws that specifically address greenwashing and no legal definition on what basis you can describe a product as “eco-friendly” or “green”, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) is undertaking increasing numbers of investigations into complaints that businesses are misleading consumers on claims of environmental and green products, and discovering that many businesses simply do not have the evidence to substantiate these claims.
“As the climate of fear for being caught out grows, many businesses are reacting by choosing not to promote their “green” activities or results altogether to avoid public backlash, in a developing trend known as greenhushing.”
Businesses should also ensure all marketing strategies are reviewed by an expert before going live to ensure they are compliant with UK advertising regulations. Advertising, marketing and branding are often where companies fall down in terms of misleading consumers on their claims regarding environmental products.
Additionally, businesses should endeavour to keep up to date with relevant regulatory bodies. Greenwashing remains a relatively new concept, and guidance and resources are continually being released by these bodies to help retailers maintain transparency and accuracy around their products.
Brands should always be careful about claims made around products and services to ensure they are accurate, truthful and not misleading. However, fear of greenwashing should not lead to greenhushing. Neither the regulators nor in all likelihood the majority of the public would want to see businesses being discouraged from taking positive measures to combat climate change.