Is green-hushing on the rise?

What is green-hushing? 

The antithesis of greenwashing, the term ‘green-hushing’ was created by consulting firm Tree Hugger in 2008 when they recognised companies they met were hesitant about publicising sustainability initiatives. It’s recently resurfaced, with concerns that the practice of under-communicating sustainability activities is becoming more commonplace.

In a recent report from climate consultancy and carbon offsets developer South Pole, a quarter of the 1,200 companies in 12 countries surveyed said they would not publicise their science-based net zero emissions targets. This is despite 72% of the companies setting them. Though a necessary part of the road map for reducing emissions in line with the goals of the Paris agreement, it’s suggested an increasing number of companies are choosing to stay silent in an attempt to avoid scrutiny and allegations of greenwashing, sparking concerns around progress. The feeling is that it’s bad to oversell corporate action but it’s also bad to act quietly; you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

Why does green-hushing happen?

Following COP26, many companies were ready to shout about their ESG credentials. However, frequent accusations of misleading and unsubstantiated claims, an increasing number of lawsuits (most notably against oil company TotalEnergies), and heightened regulatory attention are thought to have inspired fear when it comes to reporting. Getting it wrong could irreversibly damage a company’s reputation. 

The politics relating to climate change in a particular region could also be a factor, looking at recent events in Texas. 

The challenges

Investor group Climate Action 100+ reports only 20 percent of the world’s top 166 companies by emissions have set science-based emissions targets. If those who are setting goals go quiet, inspiring some of the climate laggards could become more difficult. In adopting more evasive reporting practices, companies will miss the opportunity to inspire positive change and move their wider industry in a more sustainable direction. 

Additionally, green-hushing prevents customers and investors who are looking to support sustainable businesses from making informed decisions. 

The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) emphasise the need for companies to be transparent in their sustainable initiatives as they play a vital role in influencing market change. Companies must go above and beyond government-mandated levels of disclosure clarity to bring about the positive change so urgently needed. South Pole CEO Renat Heuberger highlighted this in a statement accompanying survey results, saying: “The speed at which we are overshooting our planetary boundaries is mind-blowing. More than ever we need the companies making progress on sustainability to inspire their peers to make a start. This is impossible if progress is happening in silence”.

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