President and CEO, Quest Resource Management Group
Also known as “secret sustainability,” greenhushing is when a company completely opts out of publicizing its environmental accomplishments.
First, the talk of the town was “greenwashing.” Companies would masquerade their operations with bold sustainability claims when, in truth, their environmental efforts (or lack thereof) were a ploy for marketing purposes.
Now, however, there’s another disturbing corporate sustainability trend on the industry block: “greenhushing.” Also known as “secret sustainability,” greenhushing is when a company completely opts out of publicizing its environmental accomplishments. Greenhushers are notably quiet about their sustainability policies, or avoid talking about them altogether.
You may have seen the 2022 Texas story about the state banning local entities from doing business with financial firms that boycott fossil fuels. One company trying to help the environment is the enemy of another, and many businesses choose a “neutral ground” that shields their eco-achievements and milestones.
Check out the following examples that illustrate why businesses may have a skewed perspective about publicizing their good work in this area:
A winery moves from conventional to organic practices to increase the health of its soil. The company keeps the information from its retail clients for fear that it may be viewed as a reduction in product quality, an increase in manufacturing price, or both.
A food manufacturer discovers a groundbreaking water-conserving technique to make products when its competition uses three times as much. The company doesn’t reveal the information over trepidation of its being viewed as a political stance rather than an economic one.
After years of dedicated effort, a well-known grocery chain cuts down on the organic waste from its storefronts without public knowledge to avoid unwanted attention to other parts of its operation that could be more sustainable.
Why Are Companies Greenhushing, and Why Is It a Problem?
There are several reasons that greenhushing is problematic, just as there are several reasons that companies choose to do it.
For some, it’s fear of bad press. The speed of news can run a company’s reputation through the mud quite quickly. Others would rather remain silent about the environment than incur the wrath of watchdogs (similar to example No. 3 about the grocery chain).
Look at TikTok users putting magnifying glasses on certain products for their harmful ingredients, or the media outlets that expose company secrets. They’re a regular occurrence, creating headlines and making the public increasingly aware, educated and savvy about environmental efforts.
This threatening landscape is only intensifying. Every business owner should assume that activists, shareholders and the public can get their hands on organizational communication, which means that companies should strongly consider maximizing their sustainability efforts, along with the reporting and publication of their journey in this area.
How Can Grocers Avoid Greenhushing?
The truth is that many companies are unsure that they have what it takes to meet their environmental goals. As a result, they don’t want to discuss them, or they simply lack the technical skills and confidence to talk about complex climate efforts.
If grocers want to avoid greenhushing – or greenwashing, for that matter – they should prioritize proper reporting and track key metrics such as total waste, recycled and landfill diversion volumes, and carbon reduction equivalents. In other words, waste data tracking and reporting through external counsel and management service partners can enable grocers to confidently boast about their efforts.
Company owners should engage with service partners to:
Formulate a climate risk strategy/plan.
Determine appropriate targets .
Design the processes and metrics for measuring progress against established targets.
Define protocols for the extent and frequency of disclosures to the public.
Additionally, collecting accurate waste data can determine the problem areas and help regularly monitor and avoid potential liabilities. Good data and reporting can help increase efficiency at your grocery store, and measuring it against your yearly flow and others in your service field will allow you to determine the progress being made in your climate risk plan.
The biggest concern is not that companies are greenhushing or greenwashing, but rather that it looks to the public like they’re showing signs of indifference. By leading with reporting and transparency, companies can spin positive sustainability stories that can move the environmental needle.
About the Author
Ray Hatch has been president and CEO of The Colony, Texas-based Quest Resource Management Group, which delivers integrated recycling solutions that maximize landfill diversion and help corporations achieve zero waste, since February 2016. Previously, he was president of Merchants Market Group, an international foodservice distribution company. Hatch also held various executive roles with Oakleaf Waste Management, a provider of waste outsourcing that was acquired by Waste Management.