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Greenwashing - how to communicate sustainability

By Rebecca Oatley, Managing Director, Cherish PR


Talking Green: Where to begin?

Why does discussing sustainability make some startup owners feel uneasy?

Could it be that they are not pro-earth? Or are they not interested in learning how to contribute to ecological, economic, and societal equilibrium?

Well, not really.

In reality, most entrepreneurs assume that building sustainability into their business strategy is a bit of a stretch. Perhaps, the concept is new for them, and they need more time to make better sense of it. What they need is a little more enlightenment on the subject matter.

The secret to a sustainable marketing strategy.

A sustainable marketing strategy doesn’t have to be hard but it does have to be authentic. Your business may not have sustainability at its core but neither should it be thrown to the “agency” as a buzzword for a marketing campaign. It needs to be part of the DNA of your organisation to be authentic; otherwise your good intentions could be turned into accusations of greenwashing.

For those who haven’t heard of it, greenwashing is used to describe actions aimed at capitalising on the drive for sustainability or environmental responsibility without genuine intentions to make a change. So what are your genuine intentions?

Back it up with the business.

Having genuine intentions means building your business from the inside out with sustainability at its heart. If you don’t know where to begin, there are some really helpful assessments and certifications that will enable your startup to balance purpose and profit. Using these assessments helps you to consider the impact of your business decisions on people and the planet. At Cherish, we are working towards becoming a certified B Corp, and we’re proud of our Silver EcoVadis Medal which demonstrates our commitment to being a socially and environmentally responsible small business. These are two amazing certifications which ensure that your business is responsible from the inside out.


Insight and data is the key to good change and so if you haven’t already, calculate the impact of your business on the planet and use that as a baseline to measure and demonstrate the effects of your sustainability strategies. Be open and transparent about where you’re at and keep showing the changes in your carbon impact. There are some great companies out there that can help you measure. We’re working with Earthly but there are others depending upon your business and sector.

Watch the hidden.

Many digital businesses pat themselves on the back thinking that the mere fact they operate online reduces their environmental impact enormously. Digitisation does play a big part in reducing environmental impact but it can also contribute.

According to Website Carbon, the average website produces 1.76g of CO2 for every page view; so a site with 100,000 page views per month emits 2,112kg of CO2 every year.

The more complex a website is, the more energy it requires to load – and the greater its climate impact. If you imagine all of the sites on the internet and the billions of pages and images of a huge energy guzzling behemoth comes to mind. The internet is a solution but it can also be a problem.

Creating and communicating a sustainable website builds better awareness of a climate caring internet. Why not choose a hosting company which is powered by green energy? Reduce the number if images featured on each page? Or opt for SVG graphics instead of JPEGs or GIFs? Or why not stop the autoplay on any video you host so that it’s not playing in the background every time someone hits your site?

Fabulous fungi. Photographed by Stephen Axford for Planet Fungi
Natural communications. Underground fungi, mycorrhizal networks are underground networks that connect plants to each other.

Don’t sugarcoat.

Ditch the flannel (not the washing kind). Being open, honest and transparent in your communications is a must. In today’s world, we know that despite our best sustainable efforts, we cannot be perfect and that companies sometimes fail at things. That’s OK as long as you put it right, and quickly.

Clients often turn to us when in crisis, expecting that PR will sugarcoat what has happened. It won’t. The priority as a responsible business has to be to those impacted by the failure first and foremost because taking responsibility and positive steps to change is demanded from the media. Sometimes turning your sustainable challenge into a case study for effective organisation change can result in really positive PR.

Lead the Crowd.

Why not take a PR lead by changing your communications focus from only “doing less harm” to becoming “net positive” by introducing initiatives that have a positive contribution on the planet and the people who live here. Start looking outwards to how your communications strategy can be used to drive positive contributory change.

This net positive approach will be increasingly necessary as the climate crisis grows. So why not be on the front foot and start to not just reduce your carbon footprint but to contribute positively and to make this a communications pillar for your organisation?

Finally, the world will never be a done deal.

Unlike a typical marketing campaign, sustainability is “ability” - a continued commitment for change and a pledge that should never cease with a change in CMO or CEO. Continued discussions of environmental principles and sustainable practices are crucial especially in the 21st Century. Every day we must reflect on the kind of change that we want to happen.



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