OPINION: Greenhushing is just as damaging as greenwashing

Duncan Sparke

Divisional Director

Man Bites Dog

By Duncan Sparke, Divisional Director at Man Bites Dog

As climate change and sustainability rocket up the global business agenda, organisations are under increasing pressure from consumers, stakeholders, and regulators to demonstrate their commitments and practices. Nowhere is this more true than in financial services, the industry that holds the purse strings of transition.

In the wake of numerous recent greenwashing allegations, a wave of greenhushing emerged – organisations with environmentally conscious practices and policies opting to understate or conceal their sustainability efforts for fear of overstepping the line and facing a backlash.

Greenhushing is in many ways the opposite of greenwashing: greenwashing is speaking about sustainability without a strong foundation for your words, whereas greenhushing is not speaking when you do have a foundation to do so. On the surface, it sounds like a much smaller problem – the difference between actively misleading people and simply hiding your light under a bushel.

But the counterintuitive reality is that greenhushing can be equally problematic – and perhaps, an even greater issue, due to its impact on companies’ ability to communicate and – especially – collaborate.


The greenhushing conundrum

There are two fundamental issues with greenhushing – one around brand, and one around impact. The brand aspect probably feels the most pressing to many organisations as it’s the most direct. But the impact issue has stark global implications.

Greenhushing undermines genuine sustainability efforts, and in a world increasingly concerned with environmental and social issues, consumers are becoming more discerning about the values upheld by the companies they support. Concealing environmentally conscious activities results in missed opportunities to inspire positive change and action. The consequence? Leaving industries and consumers in the dark – impeding their ability to make informed and environmentally conscious choices.


The brand problem

Greenhushing can have adverse effects on a company’s brand reputation. By concealing their genuine sustainability efforts, one of the dangers of greenhushing is that you alienate your customers, your colleagues, and your stakeholders. They don’t know what’s going on and don’t know the good things that the business stands for.

Some might dismiss that and say that there are more important things that drive loyalty, like, the size of your pay cheque, but to do so would be to underestimate the way that environmental and social concerns have made their way into the public and corporate consciousness. We recently conducted some research among corporate employees that found 43% – close to half – of people say they would leave a company that wasn’t actively working to reduce its carbon emissions. That’s a problem. Values are commercially important when it comes to sustainability and dismissing them out of hand is potentially dangerous.

By failing to communicate their sustainable initiatives, companies may inadvertently disconnect from their staff and customer values, weakening their brand appeal. In a world where ethical values have become commercially significant, dismissing sustainability as too complicated to communicate could lead to losing key talent and customers. Transparent communication is crucial to maintain a positive brand image and build trust with stakeholders.


The impact problem

It would be easy to assume that greenwashing and greenhushing are at opposite ends of the sustainability spectrum. They are opposite in terms of the kinds of risks they represent – greenwashing ultimately results in a threat to the individual business responsible for making false green claims. Greenhushing, however, has far-reaching implications for progress towards sustainability overall.

The problem is what economists call a ‘negative externality’ – something that might have a small impact on the individual business, but collectively a huge impact on things like carbon transition. Why is that such a problem? Because for most organisations, greening is an immense challenge, and one that’s far too big to figure out by themselves. They need transparency to see what other organisations and peers are doing and learn from those parallel struggles. Additionally, organisations can collaborate publicly to get where they need to go faster and more effectively. If everyone’s keeping their cards close to their chest, then they all collectively lose.

It is essential that organisations collaborate with one another to accelerate sustainable practices and drive innovation. By working in silos, companies miss the chance to inspire positive change and create a greener, more sustainable economy. And that’s a perspective we can’t afford to lose track of. When you think about it in those terms, greenhushing is a threat that gets a lot less focus than perhaps it deserves.


The road to a greener future: Avoiding greenhushing

As sustainability and environmental efforts are a core aspect of the pillars of the business agenda today, organisations must embrace sustainable practices, communicate transparently, and actively communicate with their industry peers.

  • Businesses must prioritise authenticity in their sustainability initiatives and adopt tangible and measurable practices that contribute to sustainability. By aligning their actions with their stated values, organisations can build credibility and trust with stakeholders and consumers.
  • Organisations need to foster transparent communication in their environmental efforts. Clear and evident reporting on sustainability metrics, targets, and achievements supports their green statements and validates their brand.
  • Collaboration with industry peers is a powerful tool for driving innovation and advancing the sustainability agenda. Sharing knowledge, best practices, as well as barriers to overcome, accelerates progress.



As companies continue to embrace sustainability and ESG practices as an integral part of their operations it is important that they scrutinise their approach to displaying these initiatives. Greenhushing and greenwashing aren’t the only two options that organisations must choose between to advertise and advocate for their green policies. There’s no either / or, they’re not even really opposites of each other, they’re just two very different ways of getting it wrong. Businesses can avoid both, and it’s essential for all industries and for the planet they’re a part of, that they do.

By embracing genuine sustainability efforts, fostering transparent communication, and actively collaborating with industry peers, businesses can position themselves as forces for good and contribute to a greener, more sustainable future for all. Avoiding greenwashing means you won’t be a force for ill, but unless you also avoid greenhushing, it’s very difficult to be a force for good.

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