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Mark DiMattei

Greenhushing: The Downside of Sustainability

What happens when going “green” could cost you some green

Apr 27, 2023 8:46:26 AM


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Sustainability initiatives are pretty widespread at this point. They are used as signs of corporate fellowship with their customers, selling points to get consumers to choose their products over a competitor’s, or even just as a way to promote a sense of environmental goodwill and desire to help our planet. These methods have gotten so popular that people are now savvy to when companies are overinflating their environmental contributions or using misleading promotions. We’ve even named this convention “greenwashing” after the portmanteau of green (environmental) and whitewash (to deliberately hide someone's mistakes or faults to exonerate them of fault).


But what happens when companies become overly cautious about greenwashing?



Let’s Keep This Between Us…

We now have a new phenomenon that encapsulates this new fear: greenhushing. Defined by Xavier Font, professor of environmental marketing at the University of Surrey, greenhushing is “the deliberate downplaying of your sustainability practices for fear that it will make your company look less competent or have a negative consequence for you.” While the term has uncertain origins (reported to appear in use around 2010), most experts agree it gained traction after Swiss carbon finance consultancy South Pole highlighted the trend of greenhushing in a 2022 report.


According to South Pole, despite most of the companies surveyed meeting or exceeding their science-based emission reduction targets, nearly a quarter of them didn’t plan to promote it out of fear of pushback from clients and consumers. In his own study, Professor Font noted that (of the travel-based companies he surveyed) these businesses didn’t promote their “green” initiatives out of fear that their consumers would see it as an inferior experience, or that they had no idea when to make the announcement outright (At the start of the project? At the end? When some measurable data point was met?).


I Won’t Tell

While some might not see the issue of companies downplaying or not reporting their successes in sustainability and environmentalism, this could have a negative effect for other industries.


We are currently in a worldwide crisis where environmental groups are warning us about global warming, companies based in the extraction of fossil fuels are potentially polluting the landscape, and greenhouse gasses are encouraging climate change that has led to natural disasters many aren’t equipped to handle. Seeing other companies not only succeed, but thrive while minimizing their carbon emissions or reducing waste has the potential to encourage others to try these same initiatives or adopt “green” methods of their own.


Life is never something that can easily be compartmentalized and what affects our companies can spill over into our personal lives. Successful sustainability practices could also reach beyond business to affect our day-to-day via politics, helping to promote or pass bills like the Green New Deal in the US or legislation like the UK’s 2021 Environmental Act—governing policies that can help to overcome these catastrophic environmental concerns.


Keypoint Intelligence Opinion

Ultimately, companies need to overcome their fears of being called out for greenwashing. While environmental and social governance is becoming a politicized topic in the US, the fact of the matter is that we have only planet and any projects or plans to help minimize our impact on the environment can only benefit mankind in the long run.


“Green” initiatives that are honest about their reporting and the companies that put them into practice are only helping their cause by marketing themselves as businesses that care about our world, the people who live on it, and our future generations. Besides, the only companies who should be worried about any cries of greenwashing are the ones guilty of it.


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