Almost 2,000 UK media stories on 'greenwashing' in July

2 August 2023 | 4 min read | ESG
Paul MacKenzie-Cummins
Paul MacKenzie-Cummins

When the Competition and Markets Authority reported that 40 per cent of so-called ‘green’ claims made by businesses and brands “could be misleading consumers”, there was hope that this would spark a decline in so-called ‘greenwashing’.

It hasn’t.

An essential element of the work we do as a PR agency is to track all mentions of our clients in the media. Whether they have been cited, quoted, featured, interviewed, ridiculed… the lot, we monitor it all and report back to them. They can see when and where their brand has appeared (and what people are saying about them!).

We have now taken the same approach to tracking mentions of ‘greenwashing’ across the UK media landscape, from newspapers and their online editions to trade publications, radio or TV, and everything in between to gain a real-time insight into how prevalent – or not as the case (we hope) may be – greenwashing really is.

  • Who is guilty of it?
  • Who is talking about it?
  • How frequently is it being talked about?
  • What trends are we seeing – is there an increase in mentions in the UK media, a decrease, or little to no change from one month to the next?
  • And are these variances influenced by key events, such as COP28 or the more recent UK government announcement on 31st July that it will press ahead with the planned North Sea oil drilling expansion?

The data for July has just come in, and regrettably it doesn’t fill me with much optimism for war against the greenwashing brigade.

Greenwashing in July’s media

Taken on a week-by-week basis, the number of news stories that reference ‘greenwashing’ stood at 389 in the week 1st-7th July and 393 the following. In week three, 16th-22nd, that number climbed to 448.

But during week four, a staggering 629 news stories talked about greenwashing. That’s a 62 per cent leap between week one and the end of the month, and a total of 1,829 mentions in total during the whole of July.

A decline in greenwashing, this is not.

The data doesn’t just remind us of how prevalent greenwashing is and that the battle for its eradication continues to rage hard, it highlights a major concern that we have at Clearly over the number of business and brands guilty of ‘greenhushing.’

1,829The number of mentions of ‘greenwashing’ in the media in July

It may be a term unfamiliar to you, but it is one that is becoming increasingly referenced in the media. In fact, there have 113 mentions of ‘greenhushing’ in the media in July compared to just 30 in the whole of June.

Essentially, greenhushing is the practice of keeping quiet about all the great sustainability initiatives of a business or brand through a fear of being labelled as a ‘greenwasher.’ Yet we’d bet our mortgages that the number of organisations genuinely doing wonderful things far outweighs those that don’t.

Perhaps even more frustrating for us that there are other PR agencies wary of promoting both their own and their clients’ good new stories to the media. This is a mistake, and totally unnecessary. We believe that:

Good communication is based on sound foundations. Talk to the media about your initiatives by all means but do so with data that demonstrates the impact they are having.

Be brave!

Indeed, be brave with your communications – press releases, blogs, videos, infographics. Don’t hold back from sharing what you are doing, and anyone advising you to the contrary clearly (no pun intended) doesn’t understand that data-led communications will always cut through the media noise and shrug off any attempts by the naysayers wishing to accuse you of greenwashing.

We will be publishing a report on the data every three months that will not only enable us to provide a comparative analysis on a monthly and quarterly basis, but it will also identify key trends and events taking place that could account for any peaks and troughs in the media’s interest in greenwashing.

If you need a steer on how to communicate your ESG message to the media of most importance to your business, drop me a line any time.