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Meghan Novak, VP Purpose & Impact
| 22ND APR 2024

Zeno Thinks: Speak Up: Overcoming Greenhushing this Earth Month and Beyond

Today marks Earth Day and companies stand at a critical juncture: to actively engage or to remain silent? In today's landscape, environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues are under greater scrutiny than ever before yet support for these topics remains top of mind for many.  

First observed on April 22, 1970, Earth Day has since evolved into a global phenomenon, involving nearly 1 billion people across more than 193 countries. The month of April, Earth Month, now serves as a moment for individuals, corporations, NGOs and governments to reflect on their impact on the planet, celebrate progress and commit to positive change.  

In recent years, fueled by a surge in consumer demand for more sustainable products, Earth Month has become a focal point for many brands. This has led to an increase in greenwashing, or the act of conveying a false impression or misleading information about how a company's products are environmentally sound.  

Now, amidst political turbulence and sensationalist media headlines, a new trend emerges: greenhushing. Greenhushing is a practice where companies purposely keep quiet about their sustainability efforts, even if they are well-intentioned or plausible, for fear of backlash. 

Now is not the time to retreat into greenhushing. Consumers are acutely feeling the impact of climate change and are increasingly demanding more proactivity from businesses regarding social issues.   

According to Zeno’s recent "Responsibility Reset" research, 69% of global consumers stress the crucial role of businesses in addressing societal challenges, with 65% wanting increased corporate involvement in social issues. This is especially true for sustainability, with environmental conservation and climate change being among the top three issues consumers expect companies to address, just after economic stability. 

Here are four ways to avoid greenhushing this Earth Month (and beyond): 

  1. Take Action and Share Updates: In today's rapidly evolving landscape, complacency is not an option. Companies must continue to prioritize sustainability initiatives while effectively communicating their efforts to stakeholders. By transparently showcasing their commitments, companies can build trust and credibility, mitigating the risk of greenwashing accusations. 
  2. Establish Long-Term Sustainability Initiatives: While Earth Month serves as a catalyst for action, it's essential for brands to view sustainability as an ongoing journey rather than a one-time event. If planning to activate, brands should use Earth Month to reinforce long-term sustainability initiatives that extend beyond April and create meaningful sustainability impact. 
  3. Embed Sustainability into the Business: Consumers demand sincerity and can spot insincerity easily. Brands must integrate sustainability into daily operations, not just as a checkbox for special events. Sustainability should be a constant commitment, woven into every aspect of the business, leading to lasting positive effects on the environment and society. Making sustainability a strategic priority rather than a temporary campaign allows companies to genuinely contribute to a sustainable future. 
  4. Demonstrate Impact: Companies must showcase how their sustainability efforts not only benefit the planet but also drive business performance. By boosting efficiency, reducing waste, gaining competitive advantage, and mitigating risks, sustainability becomes a cornerstone for success in today's business landscape. 

As the impacts of climate change become ever more tangible in our lives and consumer expectations continue to rise for companies to act, remaining on the sidelines is simply not viable, especially during Earth Month or at any time. Rather, it is a moment for companies to use their business, scale and voice to advance progress today and in the future.