What is Greenhushing and Is It Worse Than Greenwashing?

Unveil the secretive world of "Greenhushing" and its impact on corporate transparency and sustainability commitments in this article

20.06.23Aisha Ayoade

In an era where environmental consciousness is paramount, companies are under increasing pressure to demonstrate their commitment to sustainability and combatting climate change. However, a recent phenomenon known as “greenhushing” has come to light—a term coined by Treehugger in 2008 to describe the act of companies intentionally withholding information surrounding their environmental initiatives, for fear of being called out.

According to the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC), companies are increasingly resorting to a practice called “greenhushing” in order to avoid scrutiny of their climate goals.

Understanding Greenwashing:

Before we delve into greenhushing, it is essential to grasp the concept of greenwashing. Greenwashing refers to the practice of misleading consumers or the public into believing that a company’s products, practices, or policies are more environmentally friendly than they actually are. It involves the use of carefully crafted marketing strategies that exaggerate or misrepresent a company’s sustainability efforts while downplaying its negative impacts on the environment.

Introducing Greenhushing:

In contrast to greenwashing, greenhushing refers to the act of downplaying or suppressing a company’s genuine environmental efforts. The term gained prominence in recent times following a statement by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) chair, Joseph Longo—which highlighted concerns about companies engaging in greenhushing to avoid scrutiny of their climate goals. The practice is particularly concerning because it allows companies to claim to have good environmental, social and governance (ESG) policies without having them tested.

The Tactics of Greenhushing:

Companies employ various tactics to engage in greenhushing. One common approach is to provide vague or ambiguous statements about sustainability goals, making it difficult for stakeholders to assess the company’s true commitment to environmental responsibility. Another tactic involves framing climate initiatives as long-term goals without outlining concrete plans or targets, effectively delaying or avoiding immediate action.

Additionally, companies may selectively disclose information by emphasizing minor sustainability initiatives while disregarding major environmental challenges they face. This selective reporting allows them to divert attention from their shortcomings and maintain a positive public image without substantial progress in mitigating their environmental impact.

It's important to note that greenhushing is not always a deliberate act with malicious intent. Some companies choose not to communicate their environmental goals out of fear of backlash, without intending to deceive their audience.

In many cases, greenhushing arises as a response to the fear of being accused of greenwashing. A 2020 study published in Environmental Sciences Europe argues that ‘green skepticism’ has grown along with greenwashing, and that genuine green claims suffer from greater suspicion since it’s increasingly difficult for consumers to assess the trustworthiness in green marketing.

Why is Greenhushing Problematic?

Greenhushing poses significant challenges for consumers, investors, and society at large. By obscuring or understating their environmental efforts, companies are impeding the collective progress towards a sustainable future. The lack of transparency makes it difficult for stakeholders to make informed decisions, as they are unable to accurately assess a company’s true impact on the environment.

Moreover, greenhushing erodes public trust in corporate sustainability commitments. It undermines the efforts of genuinely environmentally responsible companies and creates skepticism among consumers, who may become disillusioned and lose faith in companies’ claims altogether. This skepticism hampers progress by discouraging individuals from actively supporting and advocating for genuine sustainability initiatives.

Is Greenhushing Worse Than Greenwashing?

Comparing greenhushing to greenwashing presents a unique dilemma. While greenwashing deceives consumers through false claims, greenhushing manipulates perceptions by deliberately underreporting or downplaying genuine sustainability efforts. Both practices have negative consequences and impede the transition to a more sustainable future.

However, greenhushing may be considered more insidious than greenwashing in some respects. Unlike greenwashing, which can be detected through careful scrutiny and fact-checking, greenhushing operates in the shadows, obscuring the true extent of a company’s environmental commitment. This opacity makes it more challenging for stakeholders to identify and address the problem effectively.

The rise of greenhushing raises concerns about corporate transparency and the integrity of sustainability commitments. While it is crucial to combat both greenwashing and greenhushing, the clandestine nature of greenhushing makes it particularly worrisome. Even among the self-identified heavy emitters—76% of whom had science-aligned net zero targets—nearly a quarter have decided not to publicise their milestones beyond what is mandated. Without transparency and ambitious reporting, the necessary momentum to combat climate change may be stifled. To incentivize action and accountability, there is a pressing need for a robust framework that compels all companies, regardless of listing status, to disclose and actively pursue their climate goals. By demanding transparency and promoting ambitious action, we can foster a competitive landscape where companies are motivated to contribute to a sustainable future and drive meaningful progress in solving climate change.


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