Greenhushing: why companies fear talking the sustainability walk

o-WOMAN-SHUSH-facebookWe constantly hear that companies greenwash, that is, they write beautiful corporate social responsibility policies, but fail to implement them. Yet the evidence for most responsible tourism businesses and destinations may point in another direction.

A comparison of websites vs audits of award-winning accommodation suppliers showed that more than 30% of their sustainability practices were never communicated to customers, and another 30% were framed as customer enjoyment rather than as sustainability actions. This is part of making green look normal, rather than trying moralising. Academic research shows that only deep green customers will act for altruistic reasons, while most of us will only respond positively to messages that are in our personal benefit. And this is even more the case on holiday than at home.

Overall winner of the World Responsible Tourism Awards 2014 TUI Netherlands has just commissioned Leeds Beckett University to write the sustainability communications for their new hotel brand Time to Smile. Elise Allart, Sustainable Tourism Manager at TUI NL says “we wanted to get the tone right, encouraging customers to behave more responsibly without sounding preachy”. The result is a series of messages that do not mention sustainability at all. For example, to reduce the length of showers, the sign reads “LET ME REFRESH YOU AND SOOTHE YOUR SKIN: Your body recovers faster from the sun with colder water”, which appeals to the personal benefit rather than the impact of overusing water in water-scarce destinations.

Four industry leaders will talk about how they use Responsible Tourism for market advantage at the panel “How can you use Responsible Tourism to drive sales?”  (SG 19&20, 13:00 – 14:00 Tuesday 4th November). And most companies need this wake-up call: an analysis of 1800 sustainability messages on the websites of 2009-2012 World Responsible Tourism Awards winners shows sustainability is communicated as something passive and not experiential, distant from customers.

If Tuesday’s talk leaves you wanting more, Wednesday 5th November you can benefit from a free 20 minute consultation on stand AS370 from Dr Xavier Font, Leeds Beckett University, to consider new sustainability marketing strategies and more persuasive communication approaches. Book your slot at

World Travel Market brings the travel industry together through world leading events, content and digital tools, that make it easier for you to find personal and business opportunities and do more effective business.


  1. We recently featured a blog post on on the apparent perception among professionals that sustainability and marketing are different planets, and how this doesn’t have to be the case. But I can also second the study, most of the hotels and examples of sustainability leadership featured on our blog don’t communicate their environmental and social initiatives well. There certainly is lots to do for communication and storytelling professionals and advisors..

  2. Brands with environmental chops are deliberately playing down eco-credentials to avoid scaring off customers, writes Marc Gunther. Consumers are either ambivalent or anti-green in their shopping habits, so brands are keeping quiet about sustainable-business projects or are selling to other businesses rather than consumers.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *