From Freezing to Fawning: The 4 F’s of sustainable communications greenwash

The majority of the UK public doesn’t believe brands are doing enough to communicating their sustainability actions, with new research finding that marketing and communications are suffering from the “four Fs” that could be contributing to greenwashing.

From Freezing to Fawning: The 4 F’s of sustainable communications greenwash

The research claims that businesses aren't articulating their strategies well enough

Red Consultancy’s specialist sustainability comms unit – Green@Red – surveyed 4,000 of the UK public while also analysing more than 50,000 media articles related to corporate communications on sustainability.

The research found that 86% of the public believes the sustainability claims made by corporates and that two-thirds are likely to purchase from that company as a result.

It also found that more than 66% of the public believe that businesses can drive greater action on climate, but that 70% don’t feel they understand what businesses are trying to achieve. In total, 64% feel brands aren’t currently doing enough.

However, the research warns of an “action-intention gap” where some brands are moving too slowly on sustainability strategies or are unable to articulate their efforts. This is causing businesses to miss out on new customers and revenues as a result.

Red Consultancy’s research found that corporate communications are in a state of flux that can be broken down into four groups.


The first category is that of “fight”. Fighter brands are, the report states, those that show “clear sustainable action” backed by purpose-led communications. These organisations are able to demonstrate strong leadership and are trying to deliver change beyond just their own organisations.


Flight brands are far less developed when it comes to their sustainability strategies and therefore have a more “scattered” approach to communications around the various different topics under the sustainability agenda. Flight brands tend to link their communications to calendar days like Earth Day.


Brands in the freeze category tend to be scared to talk about their sustainability journey, akin to “greenhushing” where brands keep quiet about their work. This may be out of fear of being accused of greenwashing because their plans aren’t as developed as others, or they may simply not yet have all the data and metrics and want to get on with carrying out their vision.


Finally, there are fawn brands. Fawn brands are those that tend to over-rely on green media and news coverage in order to leverage new market and commercial opportunities. These brands tend to see sustainability as a selling point externally, but often fail to integrate and embed the correct functions internally to deliver on their claims and aims. This often means that they fail to truly engage with consumers as a result.

Commenting on the report, Green@Red’s head of sustainability communications Sam Bowen said: “There is a significant expectation for organisations and brands to transition to more regenerative models and have a greater influence on the way people think and act. But many are yet to fully immerse in sustainable transformation, whether strategic implementation, effective communications or both.

“Our findings show those that close the ‘Action:Intention Gap’ will remain culturally relevant and benefit from opportunities of greater trust, positive reputation and the ability to fully thrive.”

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