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Greenwashing vs. Greenhushing — and everything in between

Paige Rodgers

Paige Rodgers

ESG Comms Consultant

This year’s GreenBiz conference was buzzing…about buzzwords. The first-ever GreenBiz Comms Summit, a new two-day pre-conference to the annual GreenBiz conference, was held February 13-14th in Scottsdale, Arizona. There was a lot of good fodder from industry experts around audience targeting, influencer marketing, and one of my favorite topics, overusing sustainability buzzwords (or as one speaker called it “enviro-dork jargon”).  

As communicators, we can all likely agree that we’re tired of seeing words like “eco-friendly”, “carbon neutral” and “green this and that” overused and overshared everywhere. However, there was one term that shook the room: “greenhushing.” Greenhushing is the withholding of communication and information on a company’s climate strategy or actions for fear that releasing it will bring some form of reputational risk. Just as it seems like everyone is talking about getting to net zero, it turns out those instances are declining.  

It was shared that there’s been a 30% reduction in proactive communications around companies’ climate plans in the B2B space. Although it’s not that brands aren’t doing anything, many are setting science-based targets—which are corporate sustainability, climate or greenhouse gas reduction goals that have a clearly-defined emission reduction pathway. They are just choosing not to talk about it publicly.  

Why are companies “Greenhushing?”

“Greenhushing” is on the rise for several reasons. For some, it’s a way to avoid accusations of greenwashing, which is when a company makes false, misleading or untrue claims about their sustainability initiatives. For others, it’s because they are afraid of scrutiny for not doing enough, which may likely be true. Some do not view it as a business priority or important to stakeholders, while others believe it’s a timing issue. The thinking here is that if they’re the first in their industry to commit to getting to net zero, they’ll get a ton of media attention, but if they’re the 154th, no one cares, so why bother.  

Does it present a problem? I’d say yes and no. I’m a believer in transparency and would like to see more information shared on each phase of companies’ climate action journeys. We need to talk about the challenges, pitfalls and setbacks just as much as the progress, milestones and successes so we can learn from each other.    

On the other hand, I’m okay with companies checking themselves and holding back if they’re either at risk of overstating their efforts or misrepresenting their data. Both are dangerous to our collective progress. Greenwashing is real and research has shown that when companies overcommit or don’t deliver on sustainability goals, they erode the trust they have with key stakeholders, namely their relationship with customers. 

The bottom line

When it all boils down, don’t “greenhush” or greenwash. Not only do we need more companies setting science-based targets, we also need more of them talking about it, honestly and authentically, so others can learn from their experience. And yes, stay away from the buzzwords and jargon while you’re doing it. Describe what carbon neutral or net zero means in your business, provide examples, neutralize the language so it’s more accessible and understandable for all.  

If you’re looking for guidance on how to communicate about what you’re doing in your own ESG or sustainability initiatives, please reach out. The Hotwire team is here to help. Email us at and visit our website to learn more about our ESG Services here.