In the beginning there was greenwashing, and it was bad.
Companies made bold claims about being environmentally conscious for marketing purposes, but they didn’t make any serious commitment to sustainability.
But some experts say greenwashing has given way to another troubling corporate sustainability trend: greenhushing.
What is green hushing?
Greenhushing is when a company does not publish its environmental performance. Unlike greenwashing, where companies exaggerate their sustainability policies, greenhushers remain silent about even existing sustainability policies.
A 2022 report from climate consultancy South Pole found that of the 1,200 private companies they surveyed that are considered global climate leaders, nearly a quarter did not disclose their environmental achievements and milestones.
Most analysts agree that greenhushing is more common than ever. But there is some debate as to why.
Nicola Stopps, CEO of consultancy Simply Sustainable, thinks it’s because of fear of bad press.
“Because of social media and the speed of news these days [a company’s] reputation can be dramatically affected very quickly,” Stopps said Narrator. “The public and stakeholders are definitely becoming more educated, aware and smarter… companies need to take this much more seriously.”
In recent years, these have been companies such as McDonald’s and Volkswagen raked over the coals by the media for greenwashing their sustainable policies. These companies would rather remain silent about the environment than incur the wrath of environmental watchdogs, Stopps says.
Renat Heuberger, South Pole’s CEO, agrees, but in South Pole’s annual report, he asks: “Could the … growing threat of litigation prevent companies that set voluntary targets from being more open?”
The South Pole report points to other possible motivations for greenhushing, including companies being unsure of their ability to meet their goals so they don’t want to talk about it or companies lacking the technical skills and confidence to to talk about complex climate efforts.
Related: 4 reasons why sustainability will benefit your business and satisfy the growing trend of green-hungry customers
Net zero goals, but no one is talking about it
If there is one bright spot for sustainable business in 2023, it is that most companies have a net zero policy. According to the South Pole survey, 72% of all respondents said they had set a science-based target (SBT) for corporate sustainability, climate or greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
“Long gone are the days when it was exceptional to announce a company target for net zero emissions. Today it is expected,”
In 2023, you can also expect that many companies will not discuss their SBT publicly.