How companies can be more clear — and credible — with their climate pledges

How companies can be more clear — and credible — with their climate pledges

We’ve all heard of greenwashing — the practice of making a company look more environmentally friendly than it actually is, through clever marketing campaigns.

But what about greenhushing? It’s a growing practice — on the other end of the spectrum — that’s posing a significant problem for climate progress. With greenhushing, companies hesitate or altogether decline to disclose their decarbonization efforts, for fear of criticism or backlash.

"Greenhushing is way more harmful than greenwashing," said Michelle Li, founder of Clever Carbon and Women and Climate, speaking at the GreenBiz NetZero conference last week.

It’s a surprisingly prominent problem, even among companies doing some of the most ambitious work around emissions reduction, according to Li and the other panelists. Firms will sometimes set a broad goal without detailing how they’ll get there, or fail to disclose progress and challenges on their way to meeting a sustainability target.

"Many companies that are genuine are the ones that are greenhushing," Li said. "They want to be perfect and ironclad, and that’s really just not possible in climate."

Janet Peace, head of advisory services at climate solutions firm Anew, sees the same thing: "The momentum has slowed a little bit. It’s not so much that companies aren’t doing things, they’re just not talking about them." 

So how can companies change course and be more transparent? Li, along with her fellow panelists at NetZero, have a few suggestions for communicating climate goals while maintaining credibility.

Dig into the data

It’s really easy for a company to throw a "net zero" or "carbon neutral" pledge together that’s light on details. Those are the types of marketing claims most vulnerable to criticism.

But business leaders need not avoid making — and communicating — these commitments. Instead, they should work to back them up with good data.

Shannon Siart, lead ESG adviser at NASDAQ, said a baseline for data should include a report on Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions, at the very least, with an attempt at measuring Scope 3 emissions. Without that, "speaking about a net-zero strategy is going to come off as completely not credible," Siart said on the NetZero panel.

Companies can bolster that data by engaging third parties for an audit or verification. That can be as simple as a "desktop review" of the data itself, or a more in-depth process involving site visits. 

"Having third-party verification

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