The fear of greenwashing accusations is making companies rethink their sustainability strategies and initiatives. But, if failure is not an option, what can we do then?
Greenwashing is not a stranger to virtually anyone. It is a term that, for better or for worse, has made it into our common vocabulary; but is its normalization dragging away its relevance and impact on people and the planet?
Have companies opted ambitious sustainability actions out in fear of being accused of greenwashing? Is there room for failure?
These are some of the questions that come to mind when we look at the dangerous growing trend of companies choosing to move away from ambitious sustainability actions, and focusing instead on the bear minimum that won’t get them in ‘trouble’.
Consequences are a testament to the impact of greenwashing
We are once again on a crossroad between business and sustainability priorities; while investors, regulators and stakeholders put pressure on companies to commit to sustainability, the possibility of greenwashing accusations lurks around the corner.
However, the consequences of greenwashing cannot really be seen as unreasonable when we think of what such practices actually imply. Greenwashing is a terribly irresponsible shortcut to genuine environmental action.
It is, in other words, a downplaying and undermining of the importance and urgency of climate and social action by transforming sustainability into mere marketing with no real implications or responsibilities.
How to avoid greenwashing
Greenwashing is a means to deceive consumers, investors and even employees in the worst possible way. That the consequences that come from it are severe, is just a testament of how hurtful greenwashing practices are for society.
However, we don’t want to ignore a basic premise, and that is the fact that not all greenwashing practices come from a place of evil or are intentional. There is nuance to companies’ behavior and that is where we want to focus today.
The paralyzing fear of unintentional greenwashing
Intentional negative behaviors are not what we are here to discuss today. Instead, we want to focus on those who have genuine good intentions but feel paralyzed because of the fear of being accused of greenwashing.
Such a silent or inactive reaction and positioning towards corporate sustainability has taken the name of green-hushing, which could, by definition, be understood as the opposite of greenwashing.
Although companies seem to view green-hushing as a strategy of survival by not being exposed to criticism from an increasingly demanding public, they might be missing the bigger point.
Failure is a natural aspect of any given change, and it is not necessarily a sign of deception or lack of commitment to the sustainable cause. Failure can also be a reflection of the complexities of environmental and social challenges. Success will not be immediate, we still need time to adapt and innovate.
The right to fail trying
We need to understand, as a society, as a company, and as investors or regulators, that failure is part of the sustainability process. Innovation means experimentation, and within the walls of experimenting lie failure as well as success.
Failing is not what ultimately defines companies’ sustainability actions as greenwashing, but rather, it is what they do with the efforts and valuable lessons found along the way to build a culture of learning and accountability.
Choosing to go silent or stay aback sustainable innovation is denying the idea that companies are allowed to readjust when necessary and slowly align their strategies to better fit with the needs of the environment and society.
However, there is a key aspect about sustainability and the reception society has upon organizations’ objectives that can turn the scales one way or another, and that is the level of transparency provided to the different stakeholders.
Transparency or nothing
The lack of information and a transparent look into what businesses and other organizations are doing to give an effective response to the challenges people and the planet face, is one of the biggest obstacles preventing us from adequate and sustainable development.
Furthermore, it is undeniable that businesses cannot manage what they don’t understand. Because being transparent is not only an externality to a company, or a given organization, to help build trust and reputation; it is in fact alsoa great learning and improvement mechanism.
And although backlash from the public is a genuine concern, the truth is always a much better option than hiding, for the planet, the people, the industry and the business itself.
Sustainability starts from the inside out
In DoGood we believe that working collectively can help us find that which alone may seem unattainable or useless and instead create a collective and individual eagerness to make a difference, both for the sustainability and purpose of the company and a more sustainable way of being for all employees.
Through our technology we help companies establish ESG impact objectives for employees in regards to the sustainability strategy of the company, activating and tracking employees’ impact, and creating engagement that translates into improved ESG metrics, reputational value and an overall positive impact for the environment and society.