What is "green hushing"?

What is "green hushing"?
Listen to the audio of this post here:

 This post first appeared in our weekly Make Waves Mondays email series on January 22, 2024.

I learned a new term recently, friend.

Green hushing.

Apparently, this term is nothing new. A quick Google search for the term yields a plethora of results, the earliest from late 2022. But this is a whole new world to me, and I thought it might be for you too.

Basically, green hushing is when a company intentionally does not talk about its sustainability initiatives over fear of scrutinization.

I first discovered the term while reading a Forbes article my phone suggested to me one morning.

The gist of the article was this…

Big businesses are panicking about sustainability because if they report too much their greenwashing is going to be found out. 😱 Oh no! 

*cue the eye rolls and lol’s*

I saved the article, because I knew I’d have to talk about it in a Make Waves Monday and a blog post at some point, but didn’t quite have the full picture dialed in yet.

Then, a few days ago, my phone served up another suggested Forbes article for me.

Wanna hear my favorite line from this one?

“With the global rise of greenwashing penalties and civil litigation, companies need to question if sustainability reports, and the broader environmental, social, and governance reports are currently worth the legal risk.”

Yes, friend, the whole point of this Forbes article is that companies should stop reporting on sustainability completely because if they do they’re going to be sued for greenwashing (aka lying).

Now maybe I’m missing something here, but like…don’t spread false information to make yourself look good and you won’t get sued, maybe??

As I started doing some more digging into this “green hushing” trend, I noticed something else particularly troublesome.

There are two sides to this coin.

On the one side, you have companies green hushing because they don’t want to be sued for greenwashing.

On the other side, companies are green hushing because they don’t want to be called “woke.”

In yet another Forbes article from June 2023, the author notes that in April through June 2023, “mentions of ESG [environmental, social, and governance issues], diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives, and sustainability on US-listed companies’ earnings calls decreased by 31% year-over-year.”

And some Republican-led states have started actively fighting back against ESG initiatives. 

Some are passing laws “prohibiting managers of state retirement funds from taking ESG into account,” and Biden’s first presidential veto was last March, rejecting a proposal “to prevent pension fund managers from basing investment decisions on factors like climate change,” because clearly climate change is liberal propaganda.

*my eyes can’t roll any harder*

All this tells me that companies would rather bury their heads in the sand and avoid standing by any sort of company values beyond increasing profits at all costs than actually do something good for the planet and the people that live here.

As this text I got from an unknown number two years ago says, “It’s all garbage. Garbage all around.”

"It's all garbage, garbage all around" text messageYes, I really do think about this text all the time, and sometimes I still think about replying lol

So while “green hushing” might mitigate some greenwashing concerns, it does nothing to solve any environmental or social issues and just maintains status quo.

According to a study by Google last year, 59% of executives actually admitted to greenwashing in the form of overstating or otherwise inaccurately representing their sustainability initiatives.

The study claims that many of these executives believe their misrepresentations are the result of inadequate tracking tools, but simply staying silent isn’t going to solve those problems, either.

Let’s go back to that first Forbes article for a second.

After we get past all of the “woe is us” nonsense for big business’s greenwashing being found out, we get to the solution.

“It’s the data. It’s always the data.”

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again until I’m blue in the face: if a company is doing things right, they are going to shout that sh!t from the rooftops. They want you to know what they’re doing, why they’re doing it, and how they’re doing it.

Even if they’re not doing everything, if they’re really trying and really want to do right for people and planet, they’re gonna tell you. They’re gonna admit to their shortfalls and tell you their plan to make it better. 

Those companies don’t need to wait for the SEC to spoon-feed them directions on how to talk about their sustainability initiatives. They’re already doing it. And they’re excited to do it.

Now don’t get me wrong here - I am ALL ABOUT reporting standards for all companies. Which is kinda the point. Bring on the reporting standards. Help the companies doing the right thing do it better. Make the companies that suck, suck it up and own their suckiness or do something about it. Let’s make it happen already.

The closing sentence in the second Forbes article is this:

“While there may be temptation to preemptively participate in reporting, companies should consider the full legal impact of moving too soon.”

But let’s be real here.

The only companies that should be concerned about the legal impact of ESG, DEI, and sustainability reporting…are the ones lying about it.

So what can we do as individuals?

First, vote. The first thing in a list like this is always going to be vote.

Vote for representatives (at all levels - from your city council to the president) that support corporate transparency, standardized ESG reporting, and climate change action (including things like eliminating oil subsidies and improving livelihoods).

Vote with your dollar. Support companies that have clear and thorough reporting standards. Companies that are actually doing the work and aren’t waiting for the government to tell them to.

Vote with your voice. Demand better transparency from companies of all sizes. Talk about these issues with the people around you. Share about the companies you are supporting, and why you’re not supporting the others.

What will ADITO do as a company?

Hopefully, friend, you already know that we’re doing every-dang-thing we can to keep things as sustainable as humanly possible around here. (And if you don’t check out this, this, and this blog post.) Plus all the things I just listed that individuals can do…

But next week we’re taking it a step further.

Next week’s post will be a full year-end report, showing you even more behind-the-scenes than we’ve ever done before. 

(This was actually already planned before I stumbled upon “green hushing” and wrote this week’s post…it really did just work out that well lol)

So now I’m insanely curious… Had you heard of “green hushing” before reading this? Am I just totally behind the times and somehow miss this new buzzword pop up? Comment below, let me know, and tell me what you think about all of this!

Sources + Further Reading:
Biden uses first veto to defend rule on ESG investing (Reuters)
Businesses Are Struggling To Find The Right Balance On Sustainability Reporting (Forbes)
Comment: How green hushing is leaving companies vulnerable to deep fakes (Reuters)
Companies Should Avoid ESG/ Sustainability Reports Until SEC Rule Release (Forbes)
Executives fear greenwashing and the economy will stall sustainability progress (Google)
Green Hushing In The Corporate World: Why ESG Is No Longer A Topic Of Discussion (Forbes)
‘Green hushing’ on the rise as companies keep climate plans from scrutiny (Financial Times)
Go Green, Then ‘Go Dark’? (The New York Times)
Overselling Sustainability Reporting: We’re confusing output with impact (Harvard Business Review)
Wall Street titans confront ESG backlash as new financial risk (Financial Times)

22 Sustainability Buzzwords You Need to Know
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Year-End Report 2023

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