“Green hushing” is when a company adopts a radio-silence approach to environmental goals. Many companies do it. Some don’t realize they’re doing it. Others do realize but will not openly acknowledge it.
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With COP27 underway in Egypt, the topic has returned to the fore again. Climate scientists are piling criticism on entities they feel are green hushing their way through environmental responsibility.
A report from Swiss carbon finance consultancy South Pole published last month found in a survey of more than 1,200 large companies across 12 countries, 25 percent of respondents were keeping quiet about their science-based climate goals.
These companies have, by and large, set net-zero targets; they just aren’t publicizing them and don’t plan on doing so.
What is green hushing?
Green hushing is when companies take steps to stay quiet about their climate strategies. They do this through avoidance or refusal. If somebody asks about their climate goals, they decline to answer. If nobody asks, they don’t do anything.
There are two main reasons for green hushing:
- Companies don’t want to be called out if they fall short of their stated targets.
- Companies don’t want to be called out for greenwashing (persuading stakeholders they are more environmentally friendly than reality).
Green hushing was first coined in the late 2000s but has hovered chiefly under the radar when compared to greenwashing, which enjoys widespread familiarity.
How are green hushing and greenwashing related?
Green hushing is often used to avoid being called out for greenwashing, and yet at the same time, some critics say green hushing is an example of greenwashing since companies have no public benchmark despite claiming to be acting in the interests of the environment.
The cycle is primarily one based on fear. Companies that green hush believe there is little value and many risks in being truly open about their climate goals. Even if they have confidence in those goals, they don’t want to brag about them for fear there is something they may be unknowingly omitting or exaggerating.
So, for the time being, their best solution is to avoid the topic entirely, giving them the appearance of trying to hide their climate impacts.
Does green hushing matter now?
Yes. It is hitting the news again, and South Pole’s report suggests it’s far more common than the corporate world thinks.
One in four companies withholding climate strategies was enough for South Pole’s Chief Executive Renat Heuberger to warn the trend may be catching on.
“We see that sustainability-minded businesses are increasingly backing up their targets with science-based emissions reductions milestones, which is absolutely the right approach,” he said in a statement accompanying the report’s release. “But if a quarter today aren’t coming forward with details on what makes their target credible, could corporate green hushing be spreading?”
What’s the risk of green hushing for boards, and what can they do about it?
It’s a simple chain: green hushing can put companies at odds with their environmental, social, and governance (ESG) goals; ESG goals are partly motivated by investors and other stakeholders; and, thus, green hushing risks putting companies at odds with their stakeholders.
Companies should know what the concept means and be clear whether their organization is using the strategy in its reporting.
Green hushing is withholding information on climate strategy for fear releasing it will bring some form of reputational risk.
For some, it’s a way to avoid accusations of greenwashing. For others, it’s a sign an organization is already greenwashing.
Boards should be conscious of the longer-term consequences of such an action, particularly in a corporate world more concerned by climate change than ever.
This article was originally published by the Corporate Governance Institute (CGI), a partner of the International Compliance Association (ICA). The ICA is a sister company to Compliance Week. Both organizations are under the umbrella of Wilmington plc.