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Market insight

Greenhushing: damned if you do, damned if you don’t

June 16, 2023

In the private sector, it has become increasingly difficult to know what the right course of action is when it comes to talking about environmental activity. Recently we have seen organizations face serious allegations of greenwashing for claiming to make a larger climate impact than they really are and exaggerating their commitments and actions. Fear of scrutiny has given way to a new concept: ‘greenhushing’. 

In this blog we will explain what greenhushing is, why companies do it, what the consequences of it are, and how it can be avoided.

What is greenhushing and how does it differ from greenwashing?

The term ‘greenhushing’ has gained popularity recently and refers to a company's choice not to disclose its sustainability goals or progress. Serious lawsuits have been filed for greenwashing accusations over the past few years that have led to some major companies being boycotted. Greenwashing is the opposite of greenhushing, and has become a widely used term to describe any misleading marketing or promotion about an organization’s positive impacts on the environment. 

This includes misleading advertising, overstating claims, or misrepresenting the net impact of an organization’s actions on the environment. Organizations that have published inaccurate or misleading claims about their climate strategies continue to make headlines. A European Union study in 2021 found that nearly half of the 'green online claims' being made by companies were exaggerated, deceptive, or false. 

This trend is particularly linked to the Science Based Targets, which many companies have voluntarily opted to set.

“The targets are considered ‘science-based’ if they are in line with what the latest climate science deems necessary to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement – limiting global warming to well-below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit warming to 1.5°C.” 

A 2022 survey by South Pole revealed that a quarter of 1,200 companies surveyed would not publicize their science-based net zero emissions targets. This means that companies might be setting these targets, but they are choosing not to make any public statement about them. 

Why do companies engage in greenhushing?

As pressure is increasing on organizations to set ambitious sustainability targets, some companies are actively choosing to avoid making climate-related disclosures or claims for fear of scrutiny and greenwashing accusations. 

They do this for a number of reasons: 

  1. First and foremost, fear of being called out for not setting targets that are ambitious enough or not doing as much as other companies or competitors. Social media has become a powerful tool to hold companies accountable to address their environmental footprints. ‘Cancel culture’ and ‘call out culture’ are new phenomenons that have gained momentum, which involve boycotting and ostracizing companies/people who have been deemed to act in an unacceptable way. 
  2. While it is good to hold companies accountable, it can also be counterproductive to discourage companies from sharing their progress and can make them hesitant to begin their net zero journey at all. Before, simply mentioning sustainability was generally seen as a positive sign for companies, but now it comes with potential backlash, and for this reason, companies would rather stay silent about their sustainability practices.
  1. Another reason why companies might greenhush is to avoid potential customer guilt that could lead to customer abandonment. For example, if a company knows it is not acting in a sustainable way or making sufficient efforts to reduce its carbon footprint, it may deliberately withhold this information so that customers can still use its service/product without any guilt. 
  1. The main reason companies do not disclose their sustainability efforts is that they are not sure how to communicate them. This is especially true for businesses that might just be starting their sustainability initiatives and are unsure if their efforts are making a real impact. The net zero transition includes complex concepts that affect various layers of an organization, and not all companies have experts on staff to manage climate strategies.

When it comes to carbon credits specifically, businesses often struggle to navigate how to disclose their use because they face scrutiny and ambiguity.  The lack of corporate disclosure around the use of carbon credits furthers the lack of transparency. Credit rating and intelligence companies such as Sylvera are solely focused on bringing transparency to the voluntary carbon markets. 

What are the consequences of greenhushing?

When companies engage in greenhushing it means that they are not speaking about a global issue that has rippling consequences for the planet and its inhabitants, which ultimately results in less climate impact and less inspiration for other companies to take action. 

If we want to limit global warming to below 1.5⁰ degrees in line with the Paris Agreement then it needs to be a collective effort with the public and private sector doing their part. This is not possible if corporations choose to ignore the problem or conceal their actions—accountability is essential to drive this climate progress.

How can organizations avoid greenwashing and greenhushing claims? 

Clear reporting on sustainable impact that remains consistent from year to year is the best way to ensure that one can easily assess an organization's claims. 

When publicizing climate action, use clear language and justify any claims. For example, instead of saying “we are net zero,” explain what you mean by this term and what actions you have taken to achieve it—prioritize integrity over the promotion of actions. 

Lastly, there are tools available that ensure you invest in high-quality credits. Book a demo with Sylvera now to unlock access to in-depth carbon credit assessments.
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About the author
Marketing Coordinator

Eadaoin has a degree in Government and Political Science from University College Cork. She has experience working in the non-profit sector addressing inequality and environmental issues in Ireland, and now works on the marketing team at Sylvera.