31 Mar 2023

Is your business greenwashing, greenhushing or greenshifting?

By Olivia Hill
Green paint - greenwashing and greenhushing

Unpicking greenwashing terminology and getting it right

The role of business is crucial if we’re to fix society and save our planet. Leaders are recognising this, but not fast enough. Slick communication has lept ahead of actual action and businesses are now suffering the consequences of disillusioned consumers and increasing regulation on sustainability reporting. 

As companies wake up to their responsibility we’ve seen a communications freeze. The wave of backlash and greenwashing accusations needs careful navigation and businesses are rightly nervous. Leaders need to get their ESG strategy right and reconsider their communications approach.  

We unpick the minefield of greenwashing issues and share some advice on how to authentically communicate your sustainability story.

The A B C of Greenwashing…


Making unsubstantiated sustainability claims to sell your products or services


Deliberately under-reporting to conceal your sustainability situation


Changing your sustainability targets before they’re achieved


Implying that the consumer is at fault


Exploiting social movements like Black Lives Matter and the LGBTQ+ community


Associating with young activists to improve your image


 Supporting LGBTQ rights and issues to boost your image


Employees resigning if your company’s values don’t align with their own

So how do you navigate the world of sustainability and communicate with confidence?

One in every five cases of corporate risk incidents linked to ESG issues stems from greenwashing. This is only set to increase as regulations like the Competition and Markets Authority’s (CMA) Green Claims Code, and the European Commission’s Green Claims Directive emerge. The advice we give our clients is threefold:

  1. Honesty and transparency
    Sustainability is a journey; share where you are at, give equal exposure to your successes AND your challenges, take people with you as you work to improve.
  2. Evidence current status and future targets
    Measure your sustainable and social impact. Publish your current numbers, set company targets, stick to them (or you’re at risk of GreenRinsing!), and publicly share the progress as you go.
  3. Verify your efforts and claims
    Validate your efforts with a third-party impact partner and a certification or standard, like B Corp. This will reassure your stakeholders that you’ve covered all areas and that you have a planned roadmap for improvement.

“As a communications expert, I’m saddened that my industry has driven this world of false claims. As a sustainability expert, I know there’s a right way to do it.

I believe that businesses have a duty to communicate their sustainability situation (good and bad) – it shares best practice, raises the bar in your industry and crucially it demonstrates transparency. But Communications is different to brand communications – it needs to be shared with honesty at the heart, acknowledgement that you’re not perfect and evidenced with detail. This is a different type of communication, one that requires sustainability knowledge and one that should be done with care. It’s a brave new world and businesses need to reconsider their approach!” 

Olivia Hill

Head of Communications, Seismic

Communications expertise rooted in sustainability

Seismic’s team of Communications and ESG experts have a deep knowledge of social and environmental issues.  Our communications support bridges the sustainability knowledge gap.

This ethos of combining our communications advice with sustainability expertise in B Corp, Net Zero and ESG strategy, guarantees authentic storytelling and removes the risk of greenwashing.

We know outstanding communications and ESG performance are intrinsically linked, and that is why we have both disciplines under one roof at Seismic. 

Get in touch with one of our experts to find out more.