Responsible companies and watchdog groups have had their guard up against greenwashing for quite some time. It still happens, but the purveyors are often called out and they come to regret their over-hyped green claims.
There is an opposite problem that remains rampant, however. It’s what I would call “greenblushing,” defined as “limited or no information disseminated by an organization so as to understate or ignore its commitment to and actions on environmental responsibility.” And it’s everywhere – especially among mid-size, middle-market, business-to-business companies that are addressing the Three Ps – People, Planet and Profit – but not communicating about it. These proactive, successful companies are “walking the walk,” but they’re too shy or unsure of themselves to talk the talk.
Organizations resort to greenblushing out of concern about having their motives or level of success questioned – if, for example, energy efficiency efforts are helping them save on energy costs and improve the bottom line, then they worry about disclosing the self-serving benefits of such efforts. In fact, we ought to be celebrating situations that enrich all Three Ps!
Notable symptoms of greenblushing include:
- Believing you need “all the answers” before you can communicate
- Reluctance to talk about your activities, even when asked to do so
- Downplaying your achievements, which can have a demotivating effect on employees
- Being reluctant to discuss your efforts with stakeholders for fear of backlash if they don’t share your values and interests
- Always assuming there’s more risk than reward in communicating
- Feeling that what you’re doing is “not that special”
Organizations need to understand that their stories are worth telling, regardless of their level of sustainable development. There is value in talking about the progress and process. In vacations, “getting there is half the fun.” Sustainability/corporate social responsibility is also a journey, and communicating about it can be motivational and educational.
In addition to the obvious benefits to an organization’s reputation, here are five great reasons to communicate about your sustainability/CSR journey:
- Communicating about sustainability becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, especially when you focus on internal communications. It drives employee engagement, motivation and morale – which, of course, encourage people to get more involved in programs at work and on their own time. Indeed, there is a lot we can learn about employee engagement from companies such as Campbell Soup and Fairmount Santrol.
- Story-telling attracts other story tellers, who become potential suppliers, customers and other partners. As companies continue to streamline their supply chains, the search for like-minded partners is likely to intensify. Having a proactive, positive sustainability/CSR profile has also been shown to improve a company’s ability to attract, retain and motivate millennial talent in science, technology, engineering and other critical fields.
- Your communication can educate and inspire others, and you can accomplish more together. For example, if your organization talks about a project to clean up a local park, others may be able to join the effort or identify their own projects.
- No one has all the answers, so you and your peers benefit from hearing about what others are doing. Over the past couple of years, this has been especially apparent in the area of diversity and inclusion. No company can claim to have this challenge “figured out,” but many are talking about it and we’re all benefiting.
- Many companies are already communicating about sustainability/CSR, but in an unstructured, inefficient and inconsistent manner – for example, every time they answer a questionnaire from a rating group, respond to an RFP or otherwise “reinvent the wheel” when asked for sustainability/CSR information. That is one of the primary motivations for first-time reporters.
You’ve been warned before about greenwashing, but beware of the other extreme, greenblushing. Given the benefits of communicating along the sustainability/CSR journey, well-run organizations should be able to walk and talk at the same time.