Louise Findlay-Wilson, Managing Director at Energy PR, explains how greenhushing rather than greenwashing is threatening supply chain innovation.

It’s not surprising that companies are sensitive to the charge of greenwashing. After all, there has been a lot of public criticism of those caught selectively disclosing information regarding the environmental credentials of their products or upstream suppliers. And there have been some eye-watering fines for the biggest culprits. Volkswagen was fined $30bn in 2015 after being caught rigging its diesel engines to appear to release fewer emissions

If such fines weren’t enough of a deterrent, the ‘conscious consumer’ has elevated risks of greenwashing still further. Companies are now highly sensitive to the barrage of negative publicity which a charge of greenwashing can generate. Businesses also have to contend with the scrutiny of new regulatory bodies and legislation. There’s the Competition & Markets Authority and the Advertising Standards Authority. Likewise, the EU’s Green Claims directive comes into effect in early 2026.

While those of us wanting honest reporting of environmental practices feel it’s good that greenwashing is being so actively discouraged, there is a knock-on effect. In a bid to avoid being called out for greenwashing, many companies are now purposefully keeping quiet about their genuine sustainability efforts and goals. They are downplaying their eco-activities, even if they are well-intentioned or plausible.

Stifling supply chain conversations

Does this matter? I’d argue it does, because publishing green goals and actions has the power to inspire others. It shifts mindsets, and encourages players in the supply chain to improve their own record or spot opportunities for collaborative approaches. Back in 2016 McKinsey suggested that supply chain operations account for over 90% of an organisation’s greenhouse gas emissions. The importance of the supply chain hasn’t diminished since then. For instance, more recently, the 20,000 companies in the UN Global Compact ranked supply chain practices as the biggest barrier to improving their own sustainability performance.

But if companies are too scared to discuss their green ambitions and the steps they are taking, those in their supply chains will misread the signals. They won’t see sustainability as a priority or identify how to play their part. And in businesses with complex supply chains, environmental innovation can’t be done in isolation. It is always going to be a joint effort.

So, if the best response to greenwashing isn’t greenhushing, what is? The answer is honest, clear well thought-through communication. This falls into broadly seven areas:

Be factual

According to Kantar, 52% of people globally say they have seen, or heard, false or misleading information about sustainable actions taken by brands. So, to engender trust and therefore avoid charges of exaggeration, companies must improve their messaging. They should use tangible facts that are clear and easy to understand when talking about their environmental progress. The public is increasingly knowledgeable about the environment, so don’t dumb down at the expense of providing proper detail.

Using clear imagery, examples or stories and charts to illustrate points will help with this. They will not only bring facts to life but make them much more relatable and memorable. Vague or needlessly technical jargon will sow seeds of doubt. 

Be genuine

The environmental statements and activity must chime with the rest of the business’ activities. People are deeply suspicious that organisations are adopting stances or causes as window dressing and purely in the name of profit. So, the green agenda needs to be visible and wholeheartedly being thought about – and acted on – throughout the business. 

Consistent & trained

It’s also important to ensure that this communication happens consistently. The internal team within an organisation needs to also understand where the company is on the route to sustainability, the targets that have been set and the time frame. 

Beyond this, spokespeople need to be equipped to deal with questions. This is not the time for hyperbole. If a statement can’t be backed up by facts, avoid making it. Equally, the answers to tricky questions cannot be ducked or glossed over. The answers need to be clear, factual and honest. In my experience spokespeople will undoubtedly need some form of media training to master this. 


Often, as part of these communications, a company may report on its suppliers’ performance. So, it is crucial to be clear with them how the data they supply will be used, and the need for candour. What’s needed are unvarnished, rigorous facts. Now is not the moment for them to give their sales pitch. To encourage such honesty, it is vital that suppliers are not ‘beaten up’ over the data/answers they do provide. That’s not to say a company must be satisfied with a supplier making poor ESG progress, but encouraging a supplier to overstate its activities serves no one – least of all the environment. 

Don’t overstate

Whether a company is talking about its own activity or those of its supply chain people want to hear that it has genuine ambition and has set challenging targets, but do not overplay things. The public is often smarter and more nuanced than companies recognise; most people appreciate that environmental measures are often a work in progress and will understand everything can’t be addressed at once.


Given the transition to net zero is a continuous improvement process, clearly the messaging, data and statements will need to be regularly refreshed to communicate the latest state of play. Environmental messaging and statements written a year ago will become out of date. This must be factored in.

Be brave

Finally, organisations need to be brave. If a business firmly and clearly can back up what it’s doing with facts and figures, it shouldn’t be afraid to make those claims. For more advice on avoiding charges of greenwashing or handling ESG communications contact Energy PR.

  • Sustainability

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