Walk the green path between silence and bluster

Can eco campaigns be innocent?

Had 6,000 plants sprouted overnight? Meadows rolled across Trafalgar Square, shrouding a lion in foliage and fruit. But there was nothing natural about the green oasis. Within 24 hours, it would be packed up and driven away.

Innocent, the brand behind the stunt, said the takeover “used the power of nature for positive impact”. But critics cried greenwashing:

“What a huge carbon cost for one day’s greenwashing! Trucking it all in and out again. Why don’t you sort your monumental use of plastic?”

Consumers are holding companies to account. Over six out of ten shoppers check whether brands back up their words with action. So brands are keeping schtum.

Do-gooders are quiet. Too quiet.

In a survey of 1,200 companies across 12 counties, a quarter said they weren’t going to publicise their climate targets. They’d rather stay quiet than face scrutiny – a type of under-reporting that’s known as ‘green hushing’.

Green hushing could cause companies more harm than good. 82% of shoppers want a brand’s values to align with their own. And they vote with their wallets. Three out of four say they’ve ditched a brand over a matter of principle. It follows that, if you’ve got principles, you should voice them.

There’s also the Earth to consider. (Remember her? The big blue-green thing we all live on.) Bethan Halls, a sustainability advisor, worries green hushing could make it even harder to inspire climate laggards. Basically, silence isn’t responsible – but neither is overpromising. So how should businesses speak?

Consumers want fewer stunts, more substance

Brands typically face the charge of greenwashing when they’re all talk, no action. But Innocent had backed up their campaign with action.

They’d grown or protected 300 orchards around the UK. They’d set out to rewild two million hectares by 2025. They’d even made their orange juice carbon neutral. But all that was drowned out in the backlash:

“I thought, or hoped, that it would be a campaign for environmental justice but quickly discovered that it was just an ad for Innocent.”

Could it be that people are tired of stunts?

Honesty’s the best policy (humility’s good as well)

When an environmental policy’s really impressive, you don’t have to turf a city centre. Patagonia’s press release about making Earth it’s “only shareholder” spread all by itself. As did Ace & Tate’s blog post about its environmental missteps: ‘Look, we f*cked up. Our bad moves.’

Consumers appreciated the humility and candour. 66% of millennials and 79% of gen Z say brands aren’t honest enough about sustainability. So it seems brands should be like greenhouses: transparent and environmentally friendly. And, like a plant in a greenhouse, the impact of an environmental initiative should be felt from the inside out.

Start by growing something inside your company

Nurture your initiative, then spread the word with a steady stream of comms: internal emails about office management… recycling icons on packaging… webpages about partnerships… charts in annual reports.

These comms needn’t be showy. Just honest, humble and good. Exactly what environmentally-minded consumers are looking for.