Navigating green claims in pet food: Balancing transparency and trust

Consumers demand honest sustainability, so avoid greenwashing and greenhushing when marketing your brand's environmental impacts.

2 Lisa Selfie December 2020 Headshot
Greenhushing – hiding a company’s environmental accomplishments – can cause consumers to distrust your brand as much as greenwashing.
Greenhushing – hiding a company’s environmental accomplishments – can cause consumers to distrust your brand as much as greenwashing.
Created by Tim Wall using DALL-E 3

Today, sustainability is a leading trend in the pet food industry. It's no surprise that many producers want to market their pet food, treats and related products with green claims to attract customers.

Greenwashing – false or misleading claims about a product’s environmental impact – should be avoided. Research from NielsenIQ shows 77% of consumers would stop buying from a company that misled them with sustainability claims, as noted by Suzy Badaracco, president of Culinary Tides, during a Pet Sustainability Coalition webinar on June 13.

While greenwashing is bad, greenhushing – hiding a company’s environmental accomplishments – can cause equal hardship with consumers. Badaracco explained that around 25% of large U.S. private companies with climate targets use greenhushing to avoid scrutiny.

“Companies practice greenhushing to avoid going under the microscope for their sustainability practices,” said Badaracco. “They don't want to attract the attention of adversarial groups.”

Though not openly dishonest, greenhushing hides important information from consumers.

Customers want to hear about sustainability efforts

Educated consumers are aware of greenwashing and are sensitive to it. Watchdog groups are also calling it out when they see it. Avoiding any conversation around your company’s sustainability efforts, however, can make it seem indifferent to the public.

“The biggest concern with greenhushing is that it looks like the company is showing signs of indifference,” said Badaracco. “A consumer won't know the company is greenhushing. They just think they're not sustainable.”

This can particularly impact Gen Z consumers, with 38% believing that brands that don’t communicate about sustainability are not sustainable. Moreover, 34% of Gen Z refuse to buy from non-sustainable brands, and 43% want brands to challenge societal issues, which is now part of sustainability.

Empower customers with honest sustainability

Striking a balance between greenwashing and greenhushing is crucial. “You want to empower consumers,” said Badaracco. “Give them control over bettering their environment and community by using your products. Make them the heroes. Your company isn’t the hero; you’re the guide. Guide them to become heroes by buying your products.”

Badaracco suggests these approaches to market your sustainability practices effectively:

Out: Generic “green” label statements.

In: Educate the customer by explaining why the product has a green claim on the label.

Out: Marketing how a sustainability practice helps your company.

In: Marketing how a sustainability practice helps the consumer.

Out: Promoting how your company’s sustainability efforts help the environment/community.

In: Empower consumers by giving them the control over bettering their environment/community by using your products.

“You should absolutely brag about whatever sustainability things you're doing because consumers want that,” concluded Badaracco. “But remember, you're acting as the guide. Show them how they’re improving their lives and world by purchasing your product. You're not trying to be the hero. You're empowering that consumer to be the hero.”

Editor's  note: Suzy Badaracco, president of Culinary Tides, shared these insights during the Pet Sustainability Coalition webinar, Navigating Consumer Trends & Expectations in Sustainable Pet Food Purchasing, on June 13. Badaracco also opened this year's Petfood Essentials, an interactive, informal educational seminar at Petfood Forum 2024,with her session, “Unlocking profit potential through pet snacking foresights,” which provided an in-depth understanding of the forces driving pet snacking trends.

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