By: Priyanka Bawa, Senior Analyst in the Verdantix ESG & Sustainability practice

Despite more net zero targets being set than ever before, and more science-based targets being used to back them, 2022 research from South Pole shows that one in four businesses do not intend to talk about their science-aligned climate targets. In the world of sustainability communication, the following two points further exemplify this emerging trend – greenhushing:

In 2022, BlackRock’s sustainable investing webpage had a declaration: “We are committed to supporting the goal of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 or sooner”. In 2023, the Washington Post reported that BlackRock’s webpage has been scrubbed of several references to the firm’s climate commitments.
In 2022-23 Anheuser-Busch InBev quietly stopped running Facebook advertisements that referred to its goals of net zero emissions by 2040 and 100% recycled packaging by 2025.

Greenhushing is a practice in which organizations keep their sustainability goals – as well as the progress being made towards those goals – private. This could be for a variety of reasons:

Threat of greenwashing accusations: In 2024, in a greenwashing lawsuit against KLM, a Dutch court ruled that the firm had broken the law through misleading advertising in 15 of the 19 environmental statements it assessed. Such greenwashing accusations are increasingly commonplace – in the US alone, a dozen greenwashing lawsuits have been filed every year since 2020. This constant threat of greenwashing litigation can increase the risk of inaction among firms that are already lacking in confidence when it comes to communicating their sustainability efforts, thereby perpetuating greenhushing.

Response to a complicated political environment: In March 2022, Disney’s then-CEO Bob Chapek called Florida’s controversial bill that restricts certain instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity in the classroom – nicknamed ‘Don’t Say Gay’ – “a challenge to basic human rights”. Shortly after, Florida Governor asked the state’s legislature to end the longstanding special privileges granted to Disney in Central Florida. Such a battle reflects the tension between corporate ESG goals (and their articulation) and political forces, with serious implications for businesses (including going green, then going dark). Caught in the midst of a brewing ESG storm, businesses may feel beset from all sides.

Using greenhushing as an excuse: Sometimes, businesses may also be deliberately underreporting or avoiding publicizing their sustainability efforts to evade scrutiny, accountability or other challenges associated with transparency. This can cover up a lack of substantial progress, avoid revealing competitive disadvantages, or sidestep regulatory and legal concerns. For example, businesses may choose to not publicly communicate their sustainability efforts in cases where measurement is ridden with complexities, and they fear inaccuracies in data undermining their credibility, instead of improving the quality of their data.

Whatever the underlying reason may be, greenhushing deprives businesses and ultimately consumers of the inherent value that underlies the public articulation of sustainability programmes and initiatives. By stifling knowledge-sharing through limiting the dissemination of best practices and innovative solutions, greenhushing hampers industry-wide progress and collaboration, as organizations miss out on learning from each other’s successes and challenges in sustainability efforts.

In this hitherto unchartered territory of sustainability, we are all learning, all the time, from our own experiences as well as each other’s – and we are in this together. After all, for a meaningful paradigm shift towards a sustainable future, it is imperative to build collective ambition, ability and confidence to address ESG and sustainability concerns at the requisite scale.