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Eco-explainer: What is greenhushing?
Lifestyle

Eco-explainer: What is greenhushing?

You’ve probably heard of greenwashing. So what’s the ‘hush’ about?

While many companies have sustainability built into their operations, quite a few won’t publicize the efforts that they make. This practice is called “greenhushing.” With an overwhelming number of businesses putting on a façade of sustainability, or “greenwashing,” what would lead companies to hide what they’ve already put into practice?

Why would companies “Greenhush”?

The answer, according to an industry insider, is fear of accountability and/ or backlash. It would seem that a company would be shouting from the rooftops that it has adopted a green mission. However, according to Eric Ascalon, Global Director of Community Development for an international sustainability business, doing so can be a double-edged sword. “It can go both ways. A company can be accused of greenwashing, or its sustainability initiatives can seem politically motivated.”

“Depending on their customer base, the backlash could hurt the company’s bottom line, or be scrutinized by board members or other influential people who may not agree with climate change or a sustainability mission,” Ascalon explains.

Ascalon says that practicing greenhushing might also be attractive to businesses that mostly operate in certain states, but he is not sure exactly how prevalent it is (which means it must be working).

Who’s greenhushing?

An anonymous survey conducted by Swiss climate consultancy South Pole finds that the practice is increasing. Nine of 14 major sectors were found to be decreasing climate communications.

The report surveyed over 1,400 companies with sustainability leadership, 150 of which were US-based. These companies operated in 12 countries and 14 different sectors, and the survey focused on companies that don’t publicize their climate goals and those that intentionally limit communications about them.

Despite the increasing demand for more sustainable goods, many consumer brands and oil companies are guilty of the practice.

The South Pole survey also listed reasons for the lack of clarity. As Ascalon stated, scrutiny from investors, customers, and the media was prominent. However, some companies expressed confusion over regulations and a lack of clear guidance on how to communicate their mission effectively.

Regarding scrutiny, the backlash against greenwashing has been prominent for years. Fast fashion companies, even companies that appear sustainable, have come under fire in recent years, including  H&M and Allbirds. Nike, Delta Airlines, and Coca-Cola were all sued for greenwashing. Greenwashing is even banned in the European Union.      

The bad press just may not seem worth it.

According to the survey, 58% of companies responding are decreasing their communications around sustainability, and 18% aren’t communicating them at all. 44% have described communications as “difficult.” Despite the lack of confidence, 93% of respondents found that communicating their strategies has been a key to success.

Cover photo by Kristina Flour on Unsplash

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Tonya Russell covers mental health, culture, and wellness. She is an avid runner, yogi, and traveler, and she resides in the Philadelphia area with her four fur babies and fiancé. Follow her on Instagram (@_ajourneytofit_) and Twitter (@thetonyarussell). View all posts by Tonya Russell
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