[Editor’s Note: Even experienced PR professionals need a refresher on the basics periodically, as well as insight about newer concepts. Hence, our Explainer series was born.]
For all previous explainers, view our library here. Today we explore green hushing.]
What is Green Hushing?
You’re heard of greenwashing, but what about green hushing? While the former relates to overstating an organization’s efforts toward sustainability, the latter is related to understating these efforts, or perhaps not saying anything at all, in an effort to avoid being called out for not making enough progress.
In fact, more and more organizations have been called out for their greenwashing activities, with a 2022 Harris Poll survey demonstrating that more than half (58%) of C-suite leaders globally have admitted to greenwashing.
“Making [sustainability] claims ratchets up people’s expectations, expectations lead to greater scrutiny, that scrutiny can lead to a kind of gotcha phenomenon,” according to Jason Jay, director of the Sustainability Initiative at MIT Sloan.
“If a side effect of setting a goal is that a bunch of people are yelling at [companies] from the outside for not getting there fast enough… that creates an incentive to be a little quieter,” says Jay.
Why it Matters to Communicators
A variety of stakeholders, from climate groups, corporations and consumers (particularly Millennials and Gen Z), have embraced sustainable efforts as part of a brand’s purpose. And many of these groups have long called for stronger disclosure requirements for companies to be held accountable to their commitments.
To avoid these claims, one-quarter of global companies surveyed by climate consultancy South Pole said they would not publicize their net zero emissions targets.
In the U.S., though, a proposed SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission) rule is expected to be released by the end of April 2023. The new rule, put forward in March 2022, is meant to standardize disclosures for investors of public companies.
Whether you’re a communicator for a public company or not, though, consumers are looking for accountability and transparency and would rather see “progress over perfection” being made in a number of values-related pledges.
Thus, said Bethan Halls, sustainability adviser at South Pole, “As long as companies are transparent about their progress, and communicate that in a transparent way, then they can’t go wrong.”