A new eco-trend is upon us, and it’s not something that you would expect.
Greenwashing—the act of companies making unsubstantiated claims and creating different initiatives to deceive consumers into believing that a company’s products have a positive environmental impact for marketing purposes—is quickly becoming a thing of the past.
Greenwashing is out. Greenhushing is in. But what exactly is Greenhushing?
The term greenhushing describes the act of various companies deliberately not communicating their environmental and sustainable initiatives for fear of being labeled as greenwashers. This trend is quite peculiar as companies who have been used to advocating their initiatives on how to make positive changes for society are now choosing to keep quiet about their various initiatives.
We got used to companies being vocal about their pursuit of green initiatives in recent years, so why exactly is greenhushing becoming a trend across different industries?
According to a 2022 report by climate consultancy South Pole, results showed that of the 1,200 private companies they surveyed that are considered global climate leaders, about 25 percent of respondents chose to keep quiet and not publicize their sustainability achievements and milestones. These companies intended to ‘go green, then go dark.’
There are several potential reasons why companies are choosing this approach.
Fear of drawing public scrutiny and getting a bad reputation.
No brand wants to be ‘canceled.’ Some companies choose not to highlight and publicize their sustainable efforts for fear of being publicly shamed for being hypocrites or for shortcomings in their sustainability efforts.
Companies are becoming increasingly careful about sustainability and environmental conversation claims in their marketing initiatives. Retail giant H&M had to discontinue its ‘Conscious’ and ‘Conscious Choice’ labels which characterize a number of its products, after results of investigations by the Netherlands’ Authority for Consumers and Markets.
ACM has concluded the apparel brand is misleading sustainability claims as it fails to explain and prove its products’ sustainable features sufficiently. In the Philippines, concerned groups under the Break Free From Plastic movement, represented by Greenpeace Philippines, Eco Waste Coalition, Mother Earth Foundation, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives and Health Care Without Harm, called out Nestle for ‘greenwashing practice’ as the brand still remains as one of the top polluters in their recent brand audit. The group demanded the company truly adapt to sustainable packaging solutions and stop producing single-use plastics.
Companies may fear their sustainability efforts will not be as good as their competitors, potentially harming their reputation or business prospects. The fear of not keeping up with the other efforts of competitors is a legitimate concern in different industries as this can affect brand perception, particularly for brands who want to appeal to an eco-conscious market.
For several reasons, some companies may find it hard to quantify the results of their sustainability efforts. One reason can be a lack of resources. Measuring the impact of sustainability initiatives will require time, monetary investment, expertise, and training, among others.
These are just some resources that some companies might need more access to. As both the public and external organizations require proof of sustainability claims, brands want to ensure their efforts can be reported properly to avoid negative publicity. Unlike business key performance indicators, such as revenue or profit, the impact of sustainability efforts can potentially be more difficult to quantify. For example, how does one measure the social or environmental impact of a company’s activities?
Although more and more companies recognize the importance of integrating sustainability efforts into their operations, there still needs to be a valid concern about potentially alienating consumers with differing motivations when considering products or services. Some price-sensitive consumers might prioritize affordability over sustainability and be unwilling to pay extra for eco-friendly products. In turn, this might lead to a perception that such products are expensive or impractical, which makes it more challenging for companies to market their sustainability efforts effectively.
As companies are now more accountable for upholding their commitments to sustainability and responsible business practices, the market can benefit from effective social and environmental efforts.
In this context, the public and external organizations serve as watchdogs that safeguard the market from ‘greenwashing’ practices. While tackling greenwashing is one thing, some believe that greenhushing could slow down genuine environmental and social progress.
Silence could be problematic in some circumstances. If fewer companies opt to keep their sustainability practices private, there might be less clamor for others to do so. Openly discussing sustainability practices can build momentum and encourage other companies to follow suit.
Angelica Eder is a Master of Marketing Communications student at De La Salle University. She has professional experience in the advertising, telecommunications, and esports industries. She can be reached at email@example.com.
The views expressed above are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official position of DLSU, its faculty, and its administrators.