As awareness about environmental sustainability continues to grow, businesses are increasingly under pressure to demonstrate their green credentials. This has led to a phenomenon known as “greenwashing,” in which companies exaggerate or misrepresent their environmental efforts to appear more environmentally friendly than they really are. However, there is another related phenomenon known as “green-hushing,” appearing when companies downplay or conceal their genuine efforts towards environmental sustainability.
A recent report by South Pole revealed that certain companies, spanning across industries such as technology, finance, and engineering, are choosing not to publicize their accomplishments or significant milestones relating to climate action. The survey, which included 1,200 large, private companies from 12 countries, found that almost 25% of these companies had set net-zero targets but had opted not to disclose their progress.
Green-hushing can take various forms, such as:
- Lack of transparency: Companies may not disclose their environmental initiatives, achievements, or impacts. They may not provide any information about their carbon footprint, resource consumption, waste generation, or pollution levels. This lack of transparency makes it difficult for stakeholders, including customers, investors, and regulators, to assess a company’s environmental performance.
- Minimalistic communication: Companies may mention their environmental efforts briefly or vaguely without providing any concrete details or evidence. They may use generic or ambiguous terms such as “eco-friendly,” “green,” or “sustainable” without specifying how they define or measure them. This minimalistic communication may create the impression that the company is doing more for the environment than it actually is.
- Overriding marketing messages: Companies may prioritize their commercial messages over their environmental messages, especially in their advertising, packaging, or branding. They may use bright and colorful designs or slogans that appeal to consumers’ emotions or desires, without emphasizing the environmental benefits or impacts of their products or services. This overriding marketing may distract or dilute the company’s environmental message.
- Inconsistent behavior: Companies may claim to be environmentally responsible in their public communication, but their internal practices or policies may contradict this claim. For instance, they may outsource their production to countries with lax environmental regulations, use hazardous chemicals, or avoid renewable energy sources. This inconsistency may raise doubts about the company’s sincerity and credibility.
Green-hushing can have several negative consequences, such as:
- Diminished trust: Stakeholders may lose trust in the company if they suspect that it is not honest or committed about its environmental responsibilities. This loss of trust can damage the company’s reputation, brand image, and customer loyalty.
- Missed opportunities: Companies may miss out on potential benefits of environmental sustainability, such as cost savings, innovation, talent attraction, or risk reduction. By hiding or downplaying their genuine efforts, they may also miss the chance to collaborate with stakeholders who share similar values or goals.
- Increased risks: Companies may face legal, regulatory, or financial risks if they violate environmental laws or fail to meet stakeholders’ expectations. Green-hushing can also expose them to reputational risks if they are exposed or accused of false or misleading claims.
Therefore, companies should avoid green-hushing and strive for transparency, clarity, consistency, and authenticity in their environmental communication. They should measure and disclose their environmental impacts, set clear and ambitious goals, and report their progress regularly. They should also integrate environmental sustainability into their core business strategy, culture, and values, and seek feedback and engagement from their stakeholders. By doing so, they can build trust, create value, and contribute to a more sustainable future.