The Ultimate Guide to Greenhushing – Why Companies Can’t Stay Silent About Their Environmental Goals

It is often said that opposites attract, and this contrast can also be observed between the concepts of greenwashing and its subtler counterpart, greenhushing. While greenwashing, where companies overstate sustainability claims for appearances, is well-known, greenhushing approaches the matter differently. It entails downplaying sustainability efforts, even among companies genuinely dedicated to creating a positive impact.

Coined in 2008 by brand strategist Jerry Stifelman and writer Sami Grover in a now-unavailable blog post on, the term ‘greenhushing’ often retains its ambiguity, and companies’ reasons for adopting this practice may differ. In this exploration of greenhushing, we will attempt to uncover the underlying truth of this discreet strategy.

Silent Sustainability: Exploring the Concept of Greenhushing

The Corporate Governance Institute[1] defines greenhushing as “when companies take steps to stay quiet about their climate strategies[2]. They do this through avoidance or refusal. If somebody asks about their climate goals, they decline to answer. If nobody asks, they don’t do anything.”

But why do companies choose to operate discreetly and embrace a greenhushing approach? Several motives drive this strategy:

  1. Scrutiny over unmet sustainability targets makes many firms reluctant to publicize them.
  2. Businesses want to avoid accusations of greenwashing and are too concerned to publicize anything.
  3. Scepticism surrounding sustainable products, with many questioning their effectiveness compared to non-sustainable items.
  4. Avoidance of accusations of hypocrisy and seeking to protect their reputation.
  5. Doubts about achieving sustainability goals, avoiding premature declarations and potential criticism.
  6. For smaller businesses, the high costs and challenges of sustainability reporting can be prohibitive, for example compiling data, causing them to refrain from discussing sustainability.
  7. Low moral intensity linked to sustainability can lead firms to downplay their efforts, aiming to reduce customer guilt and maintain satisfaction.
  8. Deciding when and how to disclose sustainability efforts can be uncertain for many firms as they seek to avoid potential criticism.
  9. Companies may opt to test their sustainability impact over a longer period before publicly announcing their achievements. This strategy can also provide a shield from scrutiny, including accusations or potential regulatory fines.
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How Widespread is Greenhushing?

It is a lot more widespread than people think.

The 2022 Net Zero report by South Pole[3] that nearly a quarter of 1,200 companies with a sustainability head are not publicizing achievements “beyond the bare minimum.” The report also showed some concerning findings:

  1. Despite not publicizing their targets, three-quarters of the surveyed companies have increased their net zero budgets in the past year. Many are expanding their sustainability teams to work towards their goals.
  2. The reluctance to publicize science-aligned climate targets raises questions about the transparency and motivation behind some companies’ sustainability efforts.
  3. Honest conversations about the challenges of reaching net zero are important as greenwashing persists and litigation increases. Media scrutiny, NGO critique, and the threat of lawsuits may deter some companies from being more open about their targets.
  4. Surprisingly, among substantial emitters with science-aligned net-zero targets, nearly a quarter have chosen not to share their milestones beyond the obligatory.

The report[3] emphasizes the significance of transparent communication in corporate climate action. These practices can motivate more companies to establish ambitious, science-aligned net-zero targets and cooperate on decarbonization endeavors. Nevertheless, implementing this may be challenging for certain companies. Renat Heuberger, Chief Executive of South Pole, encapsulates the sentiment of many with his comment:

Increased scrutiny by the media, NGOs, the public, and consumer and market authorities may have made companies more wary than ever about communicating their targets.

Does Greenhushing Matter and Why?

Greenhushing is damaging to companies for several reasons:

  1. Consumers, investors and other stakeholders are actively seeking information about companies’ sustainability efforts. By greenhushing, brands are not providing stakeholders with the necessary information to make informed decisions.
  2. Some people also believe that greenhushing can be seen as a form of greenwashing because companies may give the false impression that they are more sustainable than they actually are, leading to misconceptions and a lack of trust.
  3. Companies can serve as sources of inspiration and agents of change by transparently discussing sustainability. This isn’t solely a moral duty but also a reporting obligation.

Greenhushing could be considered at odds with the principles of the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) Standards, recognized globally as the benchmark for transparent and standardized reporting of ESG impacts by businesses. The new IFRS Standards S1 and S2 will likely enhance these requirements further. To effectively communicate sustainability efforts, businesses must prioritize authenticity, consistency, and ensuring that their words align with their actions. Reporting frameworks, planning, third-party verification and specialist consultation play an increasingly crucial role in helping ensure credibility and demonstrate a commitment to transparency and accountability.

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What Does Greenhushing Look Like?

Here are some examples:

  • The asset management arm of HSBC[9] downgraded several funds that were exclusively invested in sustainable assets, shifting them to a category that promotes environmental or social factors but does not require a commitment to a sustainable outcome.
  • Once displaying an image of a moss-covered building, BlackRock’s[11] sustainable investing webpage proudly asserted its commitment to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. But now, references to these climate commitments have been removed to avoid potential public backlash.

These are just some examples of greenhushing, but this issue could be much more widespread, leading to various impacts on businesses and their stakeholders.

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The Impacts of Greenhushing

A detailed study into greenhushing by tourism businesses by Font et al. (2016)[4] in the UK examined 31 sustainability-certified businesses to understand how they communicate their sustainability practices on their websites and in audits. The key findings on the impacts of greenhushing which emerged from the study are:

  1. Missed opportunities: Greenhushing can cause businesses to miss opportunities to differentiate themselves from their competitors. By under-communicating their sustainability efforts, businesses fail to showcase their unique selling points and may lose potential customers.
  2. Erosion of trust: When businesses under-communicate their sustainability practices, stakeholders may question their social responsibility and sustainability commitment. This can lead to a loss of trust and a negative reputation for the business.
  3. Spreading false information: Greenhushing can contribute to the spread of false information in the market. By adopting an acceptable silence, businesses may create a false impression of their sustainability practices, leading to misinformation and confusion among investors and stakeholders.
  4. Long-term business impacts: By not fully disclosing their sustainability efforts, businesses may be unable to forge stronger relationships with their customers and other stakeholders.

Overall, the study revealed that businesses often do more for sustainability than what they publicly state. The study indicated that only 30% of sustainability practices were communicated on companies’ websites, focusing on consumer benefits and business advantages. This indicates greenhushing could potentially be very widespread.

Importantly, the study highlights the importance of training businesses to write more compelling sustainability messages that accurately reflect their values. A better understanding of how sustainability messages shape organizational values, inform investors and impact how customer reactions influence businesses is necessary. As companies must show evidence of sustainability throughout the value chain, the requirement for better sustainability communication can only become more important.

The study’s findings underscore the importance of communicating accurate sustainability values to investors and customers. By creating more authentic sustainability messages that appeal to the relevant stakeholders, businesses can contribute to their triple bottom line; and help shape consumer culture in a more sustainable direction.

Contrasting Communication Approaches

Greenhushing highlights a potential gap between the business’s perception of customer expectations and actual sustainability efforts. It is not just due to a lack of expertise in sustainability communication but may also be a deliberate attempt to reduce the conflict between the business’s sustainability values and customer expectations. Font’s study[4] discusses how sustainability communication shapes the identity of a business. The findings show that businesses sometimes downplay their efforts to match customer perceptions, shaping their self-perception and motivation for sustainability. Companies’ approaches to communication about environmental performance can be categorized as follows:

Figure 1. A typology of firms based on environmental performance and communication

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While concerns about backlash and criticism can lead companies to tread lightly regarding their sustainability efforts, greenhushing is not the answer. Avoiding discussions about sustainability could result in negative business impacts, including lack of investor confidence, loss of consumer trust, or reputational issues. If fear of criticism causes companies to reduce their financial, intellectual, and emotional investment in sustainability, this could have a ripple effect.

How Can Your Company Prevent Greenhushing?

Despite the challenges discussed, there are several ways companies can avoid greenhushing:

  • Foster Transparency: Every step towards sustainability counts, and customers appreciate genuine actions. Apart from major certifications such as B-Corp, consider other ways to demonstrate your commitment. This could be offering a behind-the-scenes look at your operations, providing case studies, sharing details about your supply chain, or showcasing how your business promotes circular economy principles.
  • Acknowledge Imperfections: It’s okay not to be perfect. Brands should feel confident discussing their sustainability efforts, acknowledging where they might have fallen short and demonstrating a commitment to improvement. Sharing honest yearly sustainability reports can be an effective approach.
  • Adhere to Legal Guidance: With stricter laws against greenwashing on the horizon, authentic businesses that follow the rules and reporting standards closely should not be concerned. If a business is genuinely committed to sustainability and not just marketing it, these laws should not be an issue.
  • Choose Your Partners Wisely: Collaborating with agencies knowledgeable in sustainability communications can help you avoid the missteps of greenwashing or greenhushing. A specialized partner can help you steer clear of the errors that have led some brands into the realm of greenwashing.


As an article by Forbes[7] emphasized, silence is not an effective PR strategy. Honesty, evidenced claims and transparency are key in communicating sustainability efforts. It is important to integrate sustainability undertakings consistently into communication strategies, be open about actions, impacts and results; then provide relevant data to stakeholders. The importance of engaging different stakeholders and using innovative ways to present data, such as visuals and interactive content. The need for responsible and transparent sustainability communication cannot be overemphasized.

References & Further Reading

  1. The Corporate Governance Institute. (n.d.). What is Greenhushing? The Corporate Governance Institute Insights. Retrieved from
  2. The Corporate Governance Institute. (n.d.). What is ESG and Why is it Important? The Corporate Governance Institute Insights. Retrieved from
  3. South Pole. (n.d.). Going Green, Then Going Dark. South Pole News. Retrieved from
  4. Lilley, S., & van der Borgh, M. (2016). Greenwashing? An analysis of the hotel industry’s adoption of sustainable practices. Journal of Sustainable Tourism, 24(4), 522-541. Retrieved from
  5. Pirsch, J., & Gupta, S. (2016). Exploring the consequences of greenwash on corporate image: A buyer perspective. Journal of Business Ethics, 137(3), 597-614. Retrieved from
  6. Eco-Business. (n.d.). Net-zero hotels realistic but industry too fragmented for global pledge: Sustainable Tourism Council chief. Retrieved from
  7. Badri, M. A. (2023, March 27). Greenhushing Won’t Solve Your Problem with Sustainability Communication. Forbes Agency Council. Retrieved from
  8. Kdan Mobile. (n.d.). Greenwashing vs. Greenhushing: The Whole Truth Behind Sustainability. Kdan Mobile Blog. Retrieved from
  9. EuroNews. (2022, December 14). Britain’s biggest bank will no longer finance new oil and gas fields. Retrieved from
  10. Dennis, B. (2023, July 13). The rise of ‘greenhushing’: The climate trend for corporations staying silent. The Washington Post. Retrieved from
  11. Dennis, B. (2023, July 13). The rise of ‘greenhushing’: The climate trend for corporations staying silent. The Washington Post. Retrieved from
  12. Morley, D. (n.d.). What is Greenhushing? The New Negative Sustainability Trend Explained. Vogue Business. Retrieved from
  13. Werbach, A. (2022, November 13). What Is ‘Greenhushing,’ the New Negative Sustainability Trend? Explained. Fast Company. Retrieved from 
  14. The Coca-Cola Company. (2021, September 14). Bottles Made From 100% Plant Plastic | The Coca-Cola Company. Retrieved September 21, 2021, from

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