Greenhushing. The silence is deafening for companies struggling to walk the talk.

Natalie Simmons
October 2, 2023

To kick things off, here’s an interesting fact for you: 

As little as 160 large companies are believed to be responsible for as much as 80% of global emissions. 

To put that into perspective, there are an estimated 60,000 multinational companies in the world. That means 0.26% of large companies are emitting 29.44 billion  (29,440,000,000) metric tonnes of CO2 every year. 

We’ve all heard of the term ‘greenwashing’. It’s been around for nearly 40 years. And it means the same thing today as it did in 1986 when the term first appeared in a paper by American environmentalist Jay Westerveld. But what about ‘greenhushing’? Unlike greenwashing, this term hasn’t yet made it into the dictionary. However the two are related, and they are being joined by a growing number of green suffixes.

A wise puppet once said “It’s not easy being green.” 

In the light of insurmountable scientific evidence proving the link between climate change and emissions over the decades, companies and governments around the world are setting targets, developing ESG policies and committing to actions that will reduce their environmental impact. This is the talking bit. Walking is a little harder. And if progress reports reflect underperformance, a growing number of companies are preferring to obfuscate, underreport, or not report at all. Some image-conscious organisations have stopped promoting their green credentials altogether because of their fear of being criticised for greenwashing. This is greenhushing.

You might be forgiven for thinking that this next example is an “only in America” situation, but as an influencing factor on the greenhushing phenomenon, you’ll agree it’s a strong one. In August of last year, Texas banned 10 financial firms from doing business with the state because they had divested from oil and gas investments as part of their ESG policies. The full article in the Texas tribune makes for interesting reading actually. If you have time, follow the link.

We can only hope that mandatory reporting will make a difference to keep things transparent enough for us to properly deliver on the client ambitions we have. Inroads are being made here in Australia and abroad to combat greenwashing and maybe this is fuelling the greenhushing in some way. I mean really, whether it’s hushing, washing, shifting, lighting, crowding, or some other term, I believe that for companies who want to realise the manifold benefits of an active ESG policy, Purpose is the answer. 

Purpose drives people. People build communities. Communities change the world.

Greenhushing isn’t quiet achieving. It’s underperformance. The transparency we need to maintain emissions reduction momentum requires bravery. Companies who are confident enough to maintain their openness when it comes to emissions reporting and ESG headway can and should take any criticism on the chin instead of greenhushing.