In the world of corporate sustainability, it’s not always about what companies proudly proclaim; sometimes, it’s the hushed secrets they keep that reveal their true shades of green. You’ve probably heard of greenwashing before, but now there is a subtler player lurking in the shadows: greenhushing.
While greenwashing wears its false eco-badges loud and proud, greenhushing prefers to stay in the background, quietly concealing its true colors. But make no mistake; silence can speak volumes. It raises questions about companies’ transparency, accountability, and their true sustainability efforts.
What is Greenhushing?
Though not a term that rolls off the tongue as easily as greenwashing, greenhushing has been growing in popularity. In essence, it revolves around companies deliberately opting to keep their environmental and social credentials discreet, almost as if they are hushing their sustainability efforts. Greenhushing involves downplaying or conveniently omitting mention of a company’s environmental initiatives.
Now, you might wonder, isn’t modesty a virtue? Indeed, in the realm of corporate sustainability, there is merit in humility. However, the practice of greenhushing raises a cause for concern when it comes to sustainability communication. Companies that embrace greenhushing may aim to convey that they are committed to sustainability without making a fuss about it. Yet, by choosing to remain vague and ambiguous, they can inadvertently give the impression that their environmental efforts are more substantial than they truly are.
This subtle approach to sustainability communication has its drawbacks, as it can obscure the reality of a company’s emissions and sustainability initiatives. Furthermore, it opens the door to sophisticated greenwashing tactics, which exploit this hushed narrative to create a façade of environmental responsibility.
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Assessing a company’s commitment to sustainability in today’s corporate world can be a tough task. While financial metrics enjoy well-established and standardized criteria, the same cannot be said for sustainability metrics, which are often kept hidden.
Numerous organizations, frameworks, and industry groups within the business landscape have their own sets of reporting guidelines. This diversity of standards results in a fragmented sustainability landscape, making it challenging to compare how businesses fare in terms of sustainability targets and environmental credentials.
Then there’s the commonly designated ESG reporting field, a trio encompassing Environmental, Social, and Governance aspects. This reporting framework seeks to gauge a company’s commitment to sustainability, social well-being, and upholding ethical standards. However, it now finds itself in middle of growing scrutiny and criticism within the corporate world.
ESG Metrics and Growing Criticism
Quantifying social impact and ethical governance is no easy feat, and the absence of robust regulatory oversight has raised concerns about the relevance of ESG reporting. Many companies grapple with how to measure their environmental impact and fulfill their sustainability targets, adding to the complexity of the situation.
Last year, Tesla CEO Elon Musk made headlines by publicly denouncing ESG, going as far as labeling it a “scam.” This declaration came after Tesla’s removal from the S&P 500 ESG Index, a move that prompted Musk to voice his discontent on Twitter. He suggested that the integrity of the index provider had been compromised, pointing out the irony of oil giant Exxon Mobil retaining its top-10 position while his electric car company was removed from the list altogether.
Exxon is rated top ten best in world for environment, social & governance (ESG) by S&P 500, while Tesla didn’t make the list!
ESG is a scam. It has been weaponized by phony social justice warriors.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 18, 2022
Then there is the case of rampant greenwashing. Without clear-cut or standard sustainability reporting metrics, what we find is a breeding ground for corporations to exaggerate or falsify their initiatives.
The new EU CSRD Directive will make ESG reporting mandatory from January 2025. This means companies should start to collect their data from January 2024. Starting from larger companies and then later SMEs everyone will have to report on their sustainability efforts.
Motivations Behind Greenhushing
To truly grasp why organizations choose the path of greenhushing, we must first understand the driving forces behind it.
One significant factor in the greenhushing equation is resource constraints. Imagine a smaller company with limited manpower and budget resources. When they start trumpeting their sustainability achievements, they can quickly find themselves overwhelmed with demands for more data, additional proof, and numerous reports. These resource limitations can swiftly transform the green spotlight into a glaring interrogation lamp. Consequently, some organizations choose to maintain discretion as a shield.
Navigating the labyrinth of regulations can be expensive, particularly for companies seeking to solidify their green credentials. The fear of incurring regulatory fines due to inadvertent missteps acts as a potent deterrent. Therefore, some organizations opt to remain under the radar until they are absolutely certain they can meet all regulatory requirements. Some companies prefer quiet, prolonged testing of their green initiatives before making grand announcements. This approach helps them avoid both the financial and administrative costs associated with compliance.
Shielding from Scrutiny
By selectively revealing their sustainability efforts, organizations can avoid intense scrutiny and accusations of greenwashing. Companies making exaggerated or false green claims not only risk reputational damage but also potential legal consequences. Thus, through greenhushing, firms can remain unnoticed by watchful eyes. An example is the recent accusation against global banking giant HSBC. They faced allegations of greenhushing when they downgraded funds exclusively invested in sustainable assets to those including environmental or social factors, without necessarily targeting a sustainable outcome. While the company claimed compliance with EU regulations, critics viewed it as an attempt to evade investor scrutiny.
Taking a critical stance on these motivations for greenhushing is vital. While resource constraints and regulatory costs are valid concerns, they should not excuse a lack of transparency. In an era where consumers and stakeholders demand responsible investment decisions, underreporting sustainability efforts can backfire. Some may inadvertently damage trust and credibility in their attempt to shield themselves from scrutiny.
The Sustainability Imperative
All things considered, sustainability rests on transparency and accountability. It goes beyond marketing or shielding from criticism. Despite ESG criticism, customers now focus on product carbon footprints, integral to their choices. This awareness drives firms to adjust emissions goals and prioritize strong sustainability credentials in their climate strategies.
Ultimately, the path towards sustainability is far from silent. By wholeheartedly embracing transparency and accountability, organizations can not only avert allegations of greenwashing but also make substantive contributions to the collective mission of combatting climate change and addressing environmental challenges.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by the authors are their own, not those of Impakter.com — In the Featured Photo: A woman makes a hushing sign. Featured Photo Credit: Unsplash