Try 'Green Working' Instead of 'Green Hushing'

Last week the ACCC (Australian Competition and Consumer Commission) said it would start keeping a closer eye on companies’ environment claims after the findings of its new report exposed how commonly brands and businesses made misleading statements about their environmental and climate initiatives.

As the ad world warms up to tackling the climate crisis and begins to make good on their commitments to decarbonise digital media, increased scrutiny could hinder our ability to make sweeping, positive changes quickly.

Not because scrutiny is bad (because it’s not, and we welcome it to keep us honest and accountable), but because the growing popularity of ‘ going green’ has given rise to some concerning behaviors among both good and bad actors.


Elaborating on the above, the most prominent risk to date has been greenwashing (unsubstantiated, deceptive or inflated claims about the environmental impact of your product, business or service).

Brands big and small often themselves down with false or inflated sustainability claims. For example, HSBC recently fell afoul of the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) with an outdoor ad campaign about its climate-friendly initiatives. Following complaints, the ASA banned the ads, ruling that they failed to acknowledge HSBC’s own contribution to emissions.

Cases like this make people understandably nervous.

I know from conversations on the ground that there is a real fear that if brands and agencies share what they’re doing to achieve a more sustainable advertising ecosystem, it could open them up to accusations of greenwashing if they are found wanting. This is especially true as governments consider introducing stricter regulations around sustainability, net-zero or carbon-neutral claims.

How greenwashing puts our movement to decarbonise at risk:

  • discredits all the hard work of genuine players
  • introduces doubt and skepticism around effective climate change methods
  • confuses others who are trying to learn and make change

Green hushing

The fear of backlash, however, has given rise to a bigger risk, “green hushing” (choosing not to publicise carbon initiatives for fear of public backlash). This phenomenon was discussed at length at COP27, where there was significantly less promotion of sustainability projects by companies attended.

Staying quiet will hinder progress if we want to achieve net zero. If we don’t share our learnings we won’t accelerate as fast. 2030, the recognised deadline to show progress toward slowing climate change, is fast approaching and we can’t let fear of failure hold us back.

How green hushing puts our movement to decarbonise at risk:

  • makes it harder for others to learn or improve, unclear best practices
  • puts up barriers to creating recognized industry standards
  • removes ability to celebrate small wins and progress on a critical global topic

Green working

We know that changing our media buying behaviors and practices to favor low carbon emissions inventory can dramatically improve the industry and have long-lasting benefits on the planet. We also know that scrutiny will only continue to grow. So, how can we put aside our fears and continue to talk about the progress we’re making?

The answer is to embrace “green working.” Here’s what that means in practice:

  • Be genuine when sharing your green working story. At the heart of many greenwashing claims are the basic consumer laws of misleading and deceptive conduct and false and misleading representations. Evaluate your story from the average consumer perspective. Be honest truthful and specific. Use language that people can understand.
  • Focus on facts and transparency. Acknowledge exactly where you are on your journey - no matter where you are. Make it easy for consumers and/or your audience to find more information. Importantly, include the good data as well as the bad data in your communications. Remember, this is new to almost all of us.
  • Back up your claim with proof. State clearly how your progress was measured and what the third-party audit was. We need credible sources of measurement, both for determining initial carbon emissions as well as their reduction.

As the industry embarks on the journey of decarbonisation, our industry needs to avoid the extremes of green washing and green hushing and instead share our green working stories, our progress and our challenges so we can learn from each other and accelerate towards achieving our net zero goals.

For those interested to dive into the subject matter further the AANA recently published a paper on Environmental Claims Code Discussion here.

Related Blogs