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Marketing and Comms
In the Pursuit of Sustainability, Silence Is Not Golden

We caught up with TrusTrace co-founder and CEO Shameek Ghosh to discuss companies’ tendency to ‘greenhush’ to avoid scrutiny around sustainability and his advice for overwhelmed retailers.

With the constant noise of brands claiming to pursue carbon neutrality and other sustainability goals, many well-meaning retailers are left scrambling to define their own goals. Hearing such broad statements can leave brands feeling overwhelmed and frankly, inferior — and has fueled a new form of corporate miscommunication.

According to Shameek Ghosh, co-founder and CEO of supply chain traceability platform TrusTrace, "greenhushing" — disguising or downplaying sustainability efforts, in an attempt to draw attention away from a company’s sustainability failures — has become an increasingly common response to this overwhelming scenario; attempting to overhaul an entire company’s sustainability strategy all at once can lead to executives believing that it might be easier to simply not have a strategy at all.

We caught up with Ghosh to learn more about the tendency to ‘greenhush’ and his advice for overwhelmed retailers.

Can you briefly describe what ‘greenhushing’ is? How is it different from greenwashing?

Shameek Ghosh: When organizations deliberately do not talk about their ESG credentials and the things they’re doing to drive positive change, that is called “greenhushing.” Greenwashing, on the other hand, is when organizations intentionally exaggerate their ESG credentials to give an impression of having better environmental policies and impact than what is actually the case.

Why are companies and retailers turning to this strategy?

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SG: In the wake of governments cracking down on greenwashing, and facing the reputational risk involved, organizations are becoming more cautious. To avoid risks of greenwashing under increased scrutiny, it is necessary to be able to back up your claims with evidence — and as this can be difficult without the right data and tracking in place, it becomes easier and safer to communicate less.

How can retailers begin defining their ESG goals?

SG: Most major retailers already have quite well-defined ESG goals, so the focus is more on ensuring that you have the data and insights to be able to deliver or — even better — overdeliver on these sustainability and responsibility promises. However, for those that have not yet started, a good place to begin is to look at the parts of the business and portfolio that have the biggest presumed impact — e.g. due to size and the social and environmental risk tied to geographies, materials, processes, etc. Once you understand size and assumed impact, it becomes easier to prioritize data collection and target setting.

What are some of the first steps that retailers can take to implement sustainable business practices once they’ve defined their goals?

SG: In order to successfully implement defined goals for sustainable business practices, retailers must first validate the assumptions that follow the goals they’ve set — this can be done by leveraging primary data. From there, they must next determine what kind of data is necessary in order to meaningfully track and improve progress. It’s crucial for both internal and external stakeholders to understand the targets they’re setting inside in order to deliver upon them. Finally, stakeholders need to have the necessary tools to empower them to deliver on targets — which can include data, tools, insights, budget and internal alignment.

What makes supply chain visibility a tangible and realistic solution for retailers?

SG: As regulations continue to make it mandatory for retailers to have detailed information about how, where, under which conditions, and with what environmental impact (i.e carbon footprint) products have been made, supply chain visibility becomes an increasingly important and realistic solution for retailers to remain compliant with mounting government mandates.

Supply chain traceability will only become more simple, tangible and impactful as more brands adopt the solution — including this as a regular business practice strengthens relationships with suppliers as well, creating an adept network across the industry. Knowledge is power, and you can’t change what you cannot measure — so, a solution that provides insights and evidence into supply chain practices is a must-have. Having granular data on what’s happening within their brand’s supply chain at your fingertips has the potential to help retailers make informed decisions about their business from all angles — not only in regards to regulatory compliance.

What should retailers know about the journey to implementing sustainable business practices?

SG: Retailers must remember that carrying out sustainable business practices is a transformational journey from start to finish. It’s going to take time and resources — and most importantly, true commitment to change. With this in mind, it’s critical that there is endorsement and prioritization from the executive level — ensuring organizational alignment, commitment and resource allocation.

When sustainable practices are properly implemented, the benefits are well worth the effort. Not only are these practices good for business and profits, but they are motivating for employees. Traceability is becoming so ubiquitous in businesses and essential sustainability efforts that people are beginning to choose roles based on whether or not the organization has a traceability program in place. Traceability is no longer a nice-to-have — it’s a must-have.