Fears of ‘greenhushing’ in hospitality could stymie sustainability communication, roundtable concludes

By Augustus Bambridge-Sutton

- Last updated on GMT

'Greenhushing' could affect the amount of sustainability communication businesses put out. Image Source: suedhang/Getty Images
'Greenhushing' could affect the amount of sustainability communication businesses put out. Image Source: suedhang/Getty Images

Related tags Greenwashing Sustainability Catering

It is important not to mislead consumers with sustainability claims. However, fears of inadvertently misleading consumers can, according to findings from a recent roundtable, contribute to ‘greenhushing’, when companies fail to share progress in sustainability measures for fear of inadvertently publishing misleading information.

This could harm progress in sustainability measures in the long term, Stephen Nolan, CEO of food service technology company Nutritics, has warned.

At a recent roundtable event attended by Nolan and a range of leaders in the pub, bar, restaurant, and contract catering sector, and hosted by Nutritics, the difficulty of navigating sustainability communications was discussed in depth.

The roundtable presented and explored research, which was undertaken by market research company CGA by NIQ on behalf of Foodprint from Nutritics, which measures carbon footprints, on the attitude of both consumers and hospitality staff towards sustainability.

Even when consumers say they want more information​,” said Nolan, “operators are understandably extremely fearful of greenwashing. There is a sense in some quarters that sustainability initiatives need to be completed before talking about them, even if that means sacrificing potential consumer goodwill by sharing news about the journey.

One of the best things about the hospitality sector is people’s willingness to share their challenges and pain points, and greenhushing therefore presents a new risk. Transparency is vital for progress, so we hope that hospitality leaders will not give in to the temptation of silence, but instead continue to share their commitments and achievements with their peers, their teams and their consumers, for the betterment of the sector.”

Sustainability in the hospitality industry

The roundtable, which included companies such as Leon, PizzaExpress and Greene King and was chaired by industry insider Peter Martin, produced a whitepaper exploring sustainability and sustainability messaging within the bar, pub, restaurant and catering world, both among consumers and staff, informed by the research conducted by CGA by NIQ.

Many leaders admitted that their progress on sustainability was far from perfect. “We know we’re nowhere near where we need to be​,” admitted one CEO.

Jon Knight, MD of TRG Leisure & Concessions, emphasised the importance of being clear with messaging. “Our guest-facing teams need to be able to articulate what’s good about sustainability in our business,” ​he said. “They need training that’s clear, concise and accurate, and about the things that people can actually see in the restaurants​.”

However, consumer ignorance, particularly when it came to certification initiatives such as B Corp, was also considered to be an issue. Foodprint from Nutritics and CGA by NIQ’s research showed that consumers didn’t know enough about them. “They’re good to have… but they’re not resonating because people don’t really know what they mean​,” one sustainability leader said.

Greenwashing concerns were strong among the CEOs. “We’re very conscious of greenwashing and being careful not to overstate our position… our message is more that we’re striving to be better every day​,” said one.

Consumer trust in sustainability communication is, indeed, low – according to the whitepaper, only 23% of consumers think that venues and brands communicate sustainability well. Although as concerns over ‘greenhushing’ have shown, communication is far from easy.

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