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Written by Dan Byrne, the Corporate Governance Institute on Monday November 14, 2022
Green hushing is when a company adopts a ‘radio-silence’ approach to environmental goals.
Many companies do it. Some don’t realise they’re doing it. Others do realise but will not openly acknowledge it.
Nevertheless, with COP27 underway in Sharm El Sheikh, 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.
It follows the release of a report last week from Swiss carbon finance consultancy South Pole . From a survey of over 1,200 self-professed 'heavy-emitting' companies across 12 countries, 25% of respondents were 'keeping quiet' about their science-based climate goals.
These companies have, by and large, set themselves net-zero targets; they just aren’t publicising them, nor have they any plans to.
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’:
‘Green hushing’ was first coined in the late-2000s but has hovered chiefly under the radar when compared to ‘greenwashing’, which enjoys widespread familiarity.
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 that 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 .
Yes. It is hitting the news again, and South Pole’s report has suggested that it’s far more common than the corporate world thinks.
One in four companies withholding climate strategies is enough for South Pole’s CEO Renat Heuberger to warn that 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?'
It’s a simple chain: green hushing can put companies at odds with their ESG goals; ESG goals are part-motivated by investors and other stakeholders; therefore, green hushing risks putting companies at odds with their stakeholders .
They should know what the concept means and be crystal clear whether their organisation is using the strategy in its reporting.
Green hushing is withholding information on climate strategy for fear that 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 that an organisation 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.
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This article was originally published by the Corporate Governance Institute (CGI). Founded by seasoned leaders in corporate governance and education, the CGI is a global educational technology company specialising in training and certifying directors and board members. To learn more, click here.
 South Pole, ‘Going green, then going dark – One in four companies are keeping quiet on science-based targets’, 18 October 2022: https://www.southpole.com/news/going-green-then-going-dark – accessed November 2022
 Stephen Conmy, ‘What is ESG and why is it important?’, Corporate Governance Institute, 18 January 2021: https://www.thecorporategovernanceinstitute.com/insights/news-analysis/what-is-esg-and-why-is-it-important/ – accessed November 2022
 Stephen Conmy, ‘The 20 most polluting companies in the world’, Corporate Governance Institute, 28 September 2021: https://www.thecorporategovernanceinstitute.com/insights/news-analysis/the-20-most-polluting-companies-in-the-world-esg/ – accessed November 2022
 Dan Byrne, ‘What is an ESG score?’, Corporate Governance Institute, 19 September 2022: https://www.thecorporategovernanceinstitute.com/insights/lexicon/what-is-an-esg-score/ – accessed November 2022
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