Travolution Summit 2023: Verify sustainable credentials to avoid 'greenhushing'

Travolution Summit 2023: Verify sustainable credentials to avoid 'greenhushing'

Expert panel said transparency and authenticity are vital for travel brands as consumers have become 'weaponised' with data and analytics insights about whether companies are truly committed to reducing their environmental impact

Travel companies that are taking steps to operate sustainably are reticent to talk about it openly because they fear being accused of greenwashing, the Travolution Summit was told.

Tony Wheble, chief executive of customer feedback platform Feefo, said despite many examples of good practice on the industry there is an element of ‘greenhushing’.

To counter this Feefo has launched a new eco-labels verification product that will help travel brands to promote their green credentials backed by genuine sustainability schemes.

“What we have seen over the past few years is a dramatic increase in attention around sustainability and responsibility from consumers wanting to know more about brand credentials in this area.  

“We have been really impressed with the amount of work that’s been going on within most travel businesses. Most travel business we work with are, in our experience, doing something.

“But, sadly, they are quite fearful about promoting what they are doing for fear of being accused of greenwashing, so now we’ve got to a point where in many respects they are green hushing. 

“Maybe that’s a missed opportunity. It’s important to consumers, and consumers want evidence on which to base their decisions.”

Cat Jones, founder of flight-free travel company Byway agreed that there needed to be more consumer awareness about sustainable travel 

“The brands that are really leading on this are the brands offering what the consumers are looking for,” she said. “The ones who are pushing that message and challenging customers to say you really ought to look at this.”

Jones said “active measuring” of a brand’s environmental footprint is the first step for companies to make a “real difference”. She said B-Corp status, which Byway has achieved, is good example of companies that are measuring and monitoring.

“I do think as an industry we need to challenge ourselves and say where could we provide an alternative to a short haul flight and what does that look like,” she said.

Wheble said data and analytics is not only empowering travel companies to operate more sustainably but is ‘weaponising’ the consumer.

“Transparency, authenticity and verification are critical for businesses because consumers are able to find out whether a brand is responsible or whether they just say they are.”

Wheble added: We’ve got to be careful not to overhype the options that are available for aviation fuel over the next 10 or 20 years. 

“What the industry needs to do is be honest and say we can’t do much about this, although we are trying, but we are doing these other things. And that’s what consumers are expecting. 

“If businesses in the aviation industry try to pull the wool over the consumers’ eyes it won’t work so they need to be realistic about what can be delivered in terms of new fuel.”

Patrick Richards, travel sector board director at travel sustainability consultancy TerraVerde, said “transparency is the key”. 

Richards agreed with Wheble about the danger of airlines trying to pull the wool over people’s eyes.

“Unfortunately they do have a track record on occasion of doing that, committing to something and quietly dropping it a few years alter,” he said.

“It’s up to use in the industry to hold their feet to the fire and make sure the promises they make continue to be transparent.”

Richard said Travel Management Companies get reports on which airlines have committed to net zero and which airlines they sell their clients on.

He said this “nudge” towards favouring brand that have made a genuine commitment was “something I think will come into leisure travel too”.