by Gregg LaBar

March 2, 2010

With sustainability at the forefront of the political, social and economic agenda, sustainability communication matters now more than ever. Companies have the opportunity to enhance their investment story, market and customer acceptance, and employee goodwill that are inherent in their sustainability efforts. But only if those efforts do not remain a best-kept secret.

While growing numbers of organizations have taken steps toward building a more sustainable enterprise, many remain hesitant to communicate about the journey and their progress. They are addressing the Three Ps – People, Planet and Profit – but they’re not talking about it. They’re walking the walk, but too shy or unsure of themselves to talk the talk.

We like to call this reluctance to communicate greenblushing, a newly coined term that’s roughly the opposite of greenwashing, which involves overstating a company’s progress on and commitment to sustainability. We define greenblushing as providing little or no information dissemination so as to understate or ignore an organization’s commitment to and actions on environmental responsibility. Some organizations resort to greenblushing out of concern about having their motives questioned – if, for example, energy efficiency efforts are helping them save on energy costs. In fact, we ought to be celebrating the cases 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 internally (which can have a demotivational effect on employees)
  • Being afraid to discuss your efforts with customers for fear of backlash if they don’t share your interests
  • Always assuming there’s more risk than reward in communicating
  • Feeling that what you’re doing is “not that special”

Full-fledged participation in sustainability indexes and sustainability reporting is a high hurdle that is dominated by large, high-profile, public companies. However, solid, ongoing, proactive communications on such an important issue by organizations of all sizes and stature should not be an insurmountable hurdle. Every company has, or should have, a sustainability story to tell – and there are useful benefits that can be realized by sharing that story.

The bottom line is that well-run organizations should be able to walk and talk – and clear hurdles – at the same time.

For more information on how to start or join that conversation, please contact Gregg LaBar at 216-241-4614 or