Written by: Wayne Elsey, Executive Contributor
Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.
Sustainability has shifted and become more than just a buzzword or trend. It's become a call to action. We all know that the world is not in a good place concerning the climate. And in varying ways, the world's attention has shifted to the understanding we have a climate and sustainability challenge. As a result, we have increased protests and tactics. Everyone’s got a stake in this challenge, including companies. But sustainability has to be done right.
Public awareness of issues regarding sustainability continues to grow. And as consumers push companies toward sustainable business practices, the challenge for leaders is to do it right. In short, companies need to embrace genuine and transparent sustainability and change and avoid greenwashing or greenhushing. Moreover, their approach has to be around sustainability for the planet and its people.
Corporate greenwashing and sustainability
Corporate greenwashing has occurred as the shift continues to all businesses becoming sustainable. Greenwashing refers to creating the impression that a company is sustainable and eco-friendly when it's not. For example, it could mean using words such as 'sustainability' or 'eco-friendly' in marketing, giving the impression to consumers that a company is environmentally conscious when it's not.
In other words, when companies use terms such as 'eco-friendly,' people who are activists have dug deeper only to find that the association with sustainability wasn't accurate. Numerous companies have been called out for greenwashing. They include household names like Volkswagen, which cheated on emissions tests, and brands like H&M, Zara, and Uniqlo, which have contributed to fast fashion and textile waste.
The rise of greenhushing
Because some of the largest corporate brands have been called out for greenwashing, there’s been a rise in greenhushing. In short, greenhushing occurs when corporations keep their environmental and sustainability goals to themselves and don't promote them. Some companies, such as H&M, have been called out several times over their ecological efforts. But, other companies prefer not to be on the wrong side of the sustainability equation.
Therefore, with the push by the public and governments toward sustainability, companies need to choose how they will approach it. In other words, they will be forthright, transparent, and move to become a sustainable company. Or will they use misleading language to claim they're eco-friendly when they're not. That’s something that every business leader, large or small, has to grapple with now. Of course, the choice should be obvious.
3 Key imperatives for business sustainability
It’s obvious that greenwashing and even greenhushing don’t serve the purposes of consumers and the planet. Companies must shift their approaches toward sustainability in every sense. In other words, sustainability, including the environment, and how we treat workers and people in the Global South who are rightly demanding a strong voice at the global table.
The fact is that many in the Global South suffer the consequences of what the Global North has done with industrialization. As a social entrepreneur who has worked for more than a decade in the repurposing and recycling business, including with retailers and companies, there are three critical imperatives as companies look to embrace sustainability.
1. Information is vital
Every leader and manager who oversees the strategy has to inform themselves regarding sustainability issues. In other words, it's getting harder for business leaders to bury their heads in the sand. Fortunately, most leaders understand the importance of sustainability. For one, getting an internal committee to start the fact-finding, transitioning, and promotion within a company is crucial to becoming sustainable.
2. Transparency is essential
Company leaders want to protect their brand images, and it may be tempting to lean into greenhushing. However, that approach doesn't serve the company, consumers, or the public well. The more companies promote genuine sustainability efforts, the more they educate the public and their teams about the issues. Moreover, when companies demonstrate transparency, it builds credibility and fosters trust.
3. Integrating sustainability as a core value
The best way to avoid falling into the trap of greenwashing is to ensure that sustainability becomes a core value of the company. By doing that, companies can avoid lofty claims that aren't a significant part of what they're doing toward sustainability. When sustainability is a core value, it's not viewed as a side project. Instead, it becomes a fundamental part of everything you do, from operations to product design to sales and marketing.
Sustainability as the ethical choice
The idea of sustainability is not only a strategic choice for companies but also an ethical choice. We've gone well past the close regarding the damage done to the environment and the billions of people suffering the consequences. In short, sustainability isn't just the right thing to do, but it's the smart thing for companies who want to thrive well into the future.
© 2023 Wayne Elsey. All Rights Reserved.
Wayne Elsey, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine
Wayne Elsey is the founder and CEO of Elsey Enterprises. Among his independent brands, he is also the founder and CEO of Funds2Orgs. This social enterprise helps nonprofits, schools, churches, civic groups, individuals, and others raise funds while helping to support micro-enterprise (small business) opportunities in developing nations and the environment.