For decades, environmental advocates have been pushing back against “greenwashing,” when polluting companies misleadingly present themselves as environmentally friendly. Governments are finally starting to tackle the problem with stricter regulations: The European Union agreed to ban deceptive environmental ads in September, and the U.S. Fair Trade Commission is in the process of updating its guidelines around green advertising.
But as new rules go into effect, they’re contributing to a different problem: Many companies, even honest ones, are afraid to talk about their work on climate change at all.
The practice of “greenhushing” is now widespread, according to a new report released on Tuesday by South Pole, a Switzerland-based climate consultancy and carbon offset developer. Some 70 percent of sustainability-minded companies around the world are deliberately hiding their climate goals to comply with new regulations and avoid public scrutiny. That’s in contrast to just a few years ago, when headlines were full of splashy corporate promises on climate change and even oil companies were pledging to zero out their emissions. The report suggests that this newfound silence could impede genuine progress on climate change and decrease pressure on the big emitters that are already lagging behind.