‘Green silence’ increases as companies hold back climate plans from scrutiny

A trend known as “green hushing” is on the rise as companies increasingly choose not to disclose details of their climate targets to avoid scrutiny and accusations of greenwashing, a new study shows.

A quarter of 1,200 companies in 12 countries surveyed said they would not publish their net-zero emissions targets, a roadmap to reduce emissions in line with Paris Agreement goals, said climate consultancy and carbon offset developer South Pole .

And this despite the fact that the proportion of those surveyed who set themselves scientifically based goals has more than tripled to 72 percent compared to the previous year.

Following last year’s COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, companies have been campaigning for their sustainability credentials. But the ensuing spate of climate promises led to companies claiming their targets were unfounded or misleading.

Meanwhile, lawsuits have been filed against oil companies like TotalEnergies for greenwashing ad campaigns, while financial regulators crack down on lax oversight of ESG-branded mutual funds.

“Anything to do with making a commitment to your sustainability is now being looked at very closely,” said Michael Wilkins, head of Imperial College London’s Center for Climate Finance and Investment. “Together with the ESG backlash, I think it scares a lot of companies.”

Businesses are also aware that the integrity of sustainability measurement frameworks is being questioned. The Science Based Targets (SBTi) initiative, which has become the arbiter for corporate climate action, has faced complaints about its leadership and potential conflicts of interest.

“You have to pay for the initiative to be accredited, which leads to the assumption that you’re paying to get a good score,” Wilkins said. “This can harm the company trying to pursue the goals.”

SBTi Fees Company $9,500 to assess their climate goals.

Companies may be implementing legitimate goals but not disclosing them because of climate change policies in their region, said Nina Seega, research director of sustainable finance at the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership.

In the US, the state of Texas passed legislation in 2021 that attacked ESG investing for harming the fossil fuel industry on which it depends economically, and this year accused BlackRock and nine other financial groups of oil and to boycott gas.

“We know that climate and sustainability go hand in hand with profitability. However, if the overarching discourse in their country contradicts this, they may not wish to incur the wrath of customers or beneficiaries,” Seega said.

Climate groups have long called for stricter disclosure requirements to encourage competition between companies to increase their commitments.

Green silence, on the other hand, makes target verification more difficult and could discourage companies from setting more ambitious targets, said Bethan Halls, sustainability consultant at South Pole.

“As green hushing becomes a trend, it becomes even more difficult to inspire some of the climate laggards,” she said. “As long as companies are transparent about their progress and communicate this transparently, they can’t go wrong.”

Despite the caution expressed in the survey, South Pole found that companies are setting more net-zero goals than ever before, with more science-based targets to back them up and more ambitious timelines.

“It’s great that we have more organizations setting SBTs,” Seega said. “Maybe it’s a sign that climate is going mainstream that they don’t feel the need to shout about it.”

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https://www.ft.com/content/5fd513c3-e23f-4daa-817e-aa32cf6d18d4 ‘Green silence’ increases as companies hold back climate plans from scrutiny

Adam Bradshaw

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