Carbon Literacy Update – January 2024

The green agenda is no longer a niche concern – it’s mainstream – and those not addressing sustainability are increasingly facing commercial consequences. Businesses are recognising this risk and waking up to the opportunity. But can rushing to realise this cause more harm than good?

In the face of this ‘green rush’, scrutinising and evaluating your green claims and sustainability strategy is paramount. That’s why we partnered with Hattrick, who commissioned independent research to understand how confident teams are when it comes to sustainability.

The results are in – and they’re eye-opening. Download the full report here.

The key findings:

1. 64% of sales and marketing teams believe their organisation is ‘leading the way’. However…

  • Only 50% are measuring their full carbon footprint (scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions).
  • Their way of ‘leading’ is by being ‘carbon neutral’, using controversial offsetting schemes to achieve this.
  • This suggests sustainability isn’t being embedded into business strategy as it needs to be, as organisations aren’t tackling, or even aware of, the full scope of their emissions.

2. 63% of sales and marketing teams are concerned about the claims they’re making.

  • 62% acknowledge they’ve likely greenwashed.
  • 30% say claims were made due to leadership pressure.
  • So, there’s a gap between the claims they’re making and how they’re feeling about it.
  • This suggests they don’t have the knowledge to challenge claims their organisation is making.

3. There’s a generational gap.

  • 74% of Gen Z (18-29 year olds) believe they are working for organisations with a stand-out sustainability stance, but only 52% of Gen X (44-59 year olds) feel the same.
  • Are Gen Z’ers proactively pursuing roles with more purpose-driven employers? Or do they believe their organisations are further ahead than they really are?
  • At the same time, Gen Z ‘ers are more worried about their sustainability claims.
  • This suggests a lack of knowledge and clarity around claims.

4. 68% felt their organisation is more cautious about what they’re putting out over the last year.

  • 50% wanted to share correct information.
  • 50% wanted to protect the business from unfair scrutiny.
  • This aligns with increasing scrutiny and pressure on businesses. In the UK, the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) is clamping down on organisations, to ensure they are living up to what they’re saying.
  • This is leading to ‘greenhushing’, where organisations shy away from making concrete claims.

What does this mean?

  • A knowledge gap is contributing to an intention-action gap.
  • Sustainability is being used as a marketing lever, leading to a false sense of progress.
  • Information and knowledge sharing are needed in order to hold businesses up to scrutiny, resolve these issues and drive real progress.

What do the experts think?

On the 6th December, Hattrick held a ‘lunch and learn’ session where panellists welcomed the “very timely” report.

The panellists:

  • Phil Korbel, Co-founder & Director of Advocacy, The Carbon Literacy Project
  • Christos Tsaprounis FCIPD (he/him), People & Culture Director, Auto Trader UK
  • Sangeeta Waldron, Founder & Owner, Serendipity PR & Media and author of the acclaimed book ‘Corporate Social Responsibility is not Public Relations’
  • Malin Cunningham, Founder & Managing Director, Hattrick

Their 3 key takeaways:

1. Greenhushing is a big concern

Fear of scrutiny is preventing businesses from driving real progress when it comes to necessary decarbonisation. Christos noted that “a lot of people are stopping doing what they’re doing or what is needed out of fear”. At the same time, Sangeeta pointed out that “companies could be doing really good things, but we don’t get to hear about them.” And, Christos added, “it’s demotivating for the people involved if they can’t talk about it”.

“If a company is afraid to talk about what they’re doing, they haven’t baked sustainability into their purpose,” Sangeeta argued. It needs to be embedded throughout the business “from supply chain, to comms, to HR”.

For Christos, the main takeaway from the research findings was that we need to move from viewing sharing sustainability progress as an image risk to an opportunity.

2. Clambering for a competitive advantage is preventing necessary collaboration

Misleading claims come from businesses being keen to “get their piece of the pie”, Malin says, but not sharing the full picture – only sharing the good things, not where they’re falling short.

Authentic, transparent communication is needed. Phil argued that we need to give companies the confidence to share where they are at, so they can move forward without letting “striving for perfect be the enemy of the good”.

“Be credible. Be authentic. If you have a long way to go, talk about the stage you’re at, be frank with where you have to go. But do as much as you can as soon as you can.”

Christos agreed, adding that people are more interested in what practical things you are doing to reduce your footprint rather than hearing “big promises” about your net zero ambitions. But he also added:

“We shouldn’t be finger-pointing or blaming but collaborating. We should be open to challenge from stakeholders, but in an informed and respectful way.”

Sangeeta echoed the need for transparency and collaboration. “We’re not going to make progress if we’re not sharing”.

3. Education is key

“There is optimism that so many are signed up to the [sustainability] agenda,” says Phil. But we need to unpick why so many aren’t “walking the walk”. “It could be a lack of literacy, or it could be downright fibbing.”

Misleading claims are not always intentional. “It’s a confusing area,” Malin says, “the language isn’t well defined”. Terminology around net zero, carbon neutral, biodegradeable, compostable, for example, needs to be simplified.

What’s more, sustainability is being left to sales and marketing teams as the external arm of the business. But “they may not have the knowledge to speak about this in the most informed way”, explained Malin. And while it’s the responsibility of the leadership team to embed sustainability into the business strategy, sales and marketing teams need the knowledge to enact and communicate this.

Sangeeta emphasised the need for “collective intelligence across an entire organisation” and to be “more joined up in our thinking”. Phil added that, “everyone has something to contribute to the sustainability agenda, and Carbon Literacy training unlocks what that is”. Christos agreed that sustainability should be made part of everyone’s role, as it brings diversity of thought which in turn helps achieve the overall objectives. Working with The Carbon Literacy Project, he says, has helped Auto Trader to realise this.

“Carbon Literacy demystifies [the issue], but it also changes hearts and minds”, Christos said. Everyone must commit to at least one individual and one collective action as part of the training, and this motivates people and “gets everyone behind it”. Plus, the framework scales, so it works for small businesses all the way up to large companies the size of FTSE 100 company Auto Trader.

Ultimately, “everyone is on – or needs to be on – this journey”, Phil summarised. Malin agreed:

“Whether we want them to or not, these changes are happening. We’re in a paradigm shift. We’re either dragged along, or we have the opportunity to lead. Everyone is demanding positive news and for an end to the doom and gloom. By moving away from greenhushing, you can become a positive example.”

So…

  • Get educated – and make this a whole team thing.
  • Keep asking questions and learning – and connect with others doing the same.
  • Celebrate the journey – and don’t get bogged down in the end goal.

Hattrick run Carbon Literacy accredited Net Zero Masterclasses for B2B sales & marketing teams and organisations in the built environment.

Want to find out more about how Carbon Literacy could work for your organisation? Contact us.