In today’s world, where environmental, social, and governance (ESG) concerns are gaining significant attention, companies are increasingly being scrutinized not only for their impact on the planet and society but also for their messaging. As a result, some organizations have adopted a strategy of “green hushing” to avoid backlash and negative publicity.
While the concept of green hushing may seem counterintuitive at first glance, it can have significant positive implications when executed properly including responsibly. In this blog post, we will explore why companies seeking to avert backlash through green hushing can ultimately contribute broadly to corporate sustainability if not repairing the planet.
Understanding Green Hushing
Green hushing refers to the practice of intentionally avoiding public disclosure of a company’s green and social initiatives, especially when there is a fear of backlash or potential negative perception, or possible legal jeopardy. We introduced the emergent phenomenon in a blog some weeks ago, Green Hushing versus Confidentiality. Companies adopting this as a strategy choose not to emphasize their ESG efforts, some even now avoid use of the acronym ESG, often to protect their brand image or to maintain a competitive advantage in the market.
There has been widespread media coverage that Target, Anheuser Busch, and Kohls have lost over a combined $28 Billion in market value in a matter of weeks in the wake of major backlashes over their Pride campaigns and products. And Delta Air Lines was sued last month in a spurious greenwashing claim that carbon offsets do not really offset. Shareholders and others in those companies and across the business landscape are now in dramatic fashion pushing companies’ leadership to stay quiet and not publicize ESG claims.
We know that public companies’ mentions of ESG including green and social initiatives during earnings calls have dropped off significantly this year as they try to avoid controversy. And we know anecdotally that U.S. listed companies have during this last quarter asked that ESG results and scores posted on their websites, be scaled back if not eliminated; however, we see no corresponding effort to scale back the underlying ESG initiatives themselves.
Positive Aspects of Green Hushing
1. Encouraging genuine change: By staying quiet about their green and social initiatives, companies can shift their focus from public perception to actual implementation of policies from LGBTQIA+ to anti-slavery. Instead of merely signaling their commitment to sustainability, organizations can allocate their resources toward making meaningful changes within their operations, supply chains, and products.
2. Eliminating “greenwashing”: Greenwashing, the act of misleadingly portraying a company as environmentally friendly without substantial actions to support such claims, is a growing concern in the corporate world. By practicing green hushing, companies can avoid falling into the trap of empty promises, perceived or real, and instead channel their efforts into substantive sustainable practices. This approach promotes authenticity and prevents reputational damage caused by allegations of greenwashing.
3. Mitigating public skepticism: Public perception can be fickle, and some stakeholders may view corporate sustainability efforts with skepticism, especially if they perceive them as mere marketing tactics. By avoiding excessive disclosure, companies can work towards building a solid foundation of sustainable practices without facing immediate scrutiny. Over time, the results of their actions can help to foster trust and credibility among stakeholders.
4. Fostering competition and innovation: Green hushing can also create an environment that encourages healthy competition among companies. When organizations keep their sustainability efforts private, their competitors may be compelled to step up their game and adopt sustainable practices of their own. This dynamic can lead to a positive ripple effect, pushing industries towards more innovation and overall sustainability.
5. Strategic advantage: Green hushing can also provide companies with a competitive edge in the marketplace. By keeping their sustainability practices discreet, organizations can maintain unique selling points or differentiators that set them apart from their competitors. When implemented thoughtfully, green hushing can allow companies to leverage their sustainable initiatives strategically, enabling them to gain market share and attract environmentally conscious customers.
Again, it is important to note we see no signs that companies are pulling back from environmental social governance initiatives themselves, but rather businesses are making major shifts choosing to stay quiet and not publicize their claims and successes.
While transparency and accountability remain crucial elements of ESG, green hushing is a strategic approach for those companies seeking to mitigate risk by averting backlash, from extreme voices as well as concern of claims of greenwashing, and enhancing their long term sustainability efforts in our current hyperpolitical world.
By focusing on genuine change to repair the planet, avoiding greenwashing, mitigating public skepticism, fostering innovation, and gaining a strategic advantage, companies can effectively navigate the complex landscape of sustainability ensuring their actions speak louder than words at a time when the assumption that business and politics can and even should be separate is no longer realistic. Today we are seeing a dramatic shift in tactics as increasing numbers of organizations seek to find the balance between green hushing and appropriate transparency, ensuring that their commitment to sustainability is ultimately communicated authentically and responsibly. Some business matters are best and properly kept quiet.