An introduction to Green hushing

  • Mariam Lawal
  • 23 November 2022
  • Blog | Green Finance | Blog

‘Green hushing’ was first coined in the late-2000s but has hovered chiefly under the radar when compared to ‘greenwashing’, which enjoys widespread familiarity. The term was coined from the consulting firm – Treehugger – who claim they met with many businesses that were reluctant to celebrate their sustainable initiatives due to fear of criticism that their sustainability initiatives were either insufficient or false.     

We also heard the term used by Wendy Dobson, Head, Group Corporate Citizenship at Standard Bank on Day 2 of the Institute’s recent Annual Banking Conference ‘Why responsible banking values matter’, where she spoke on companies underplaying sustainability performance/initiatives for fear of being accused of greenwashing. Some organisations or businesses are also reluctant to disclose fearing their customers may not be interested in sustainability initiatives while others are concerned about putting pressures on customers to change. There are notions that green hushing and greenwashing are interlinked in some ways. While green hushing is used to avoid being called out for greenwashing, it can also be thought of as a form of greenwashing since it depicts how companies claim to be acting in the interests of the environment but have no public benchmark. Ultimately, the green hushing and  greenwashing cycle is one based on fear. There are now concerns whether more organisations are in fact green hushing for fear of reputational risk; indeed, it may also be a sign that an organisation is already greenwashing.

This practice can put companies at odds with their Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) goals which are often motivated by investors and other stakeholders. Transparency, however, is encouraged. Staying quiet causes companies to miss out on the opportunity to inspire positive change and move their industry in a more sustainable direction. They may also miss out on investments from stakeholders who want to invest in sustainable operations and technologies that can accelerate the transition to net-zero. Transparency also helps sustainability-conscious customers make informed decisions about their investments.

What can be done about Green hushing?

Given that the concept is now becoming more popular, boards should embrace it as a wake-up call. It is important to know what the concept means and be forthcoming in reporting sustainable initiatives and progress. Green hushing can be avoided by developing a meaningful and achievable sustainable strategy and policy that your entire organisation can use, an understanding of your climate targets and the ways to effectively reach them.

It is in developing meaningful capacities and capabilities that the Chartered Banker Institute plays a role. To successfully tackle the climate crisis we need to ensure that banking and finance professionals are upskilled and reskilled continually. This can give banks and bankers the confidence to report on their progress effectively and transparently. Why? Because finance professionals would have the requisite ESG knowledge and skills needed to inform their professional judgement and scepticism and act accordingly. We encourage our members to leverage our vast selection of learning resources to improve their current level of knowledge and understanding about sustainability thus increasing their confidence to disclose their measures more accurately and transparently. And if you aren’t a member yet – we’d be delighted to explain to you how to join our growing community of professionally qualified responsible bankers. And if you aren’t a member yet – we’d be delighted to explain to you how to join our growing community of professionally qualified responsible bankers.