South Pole’s 2022 Net Zero Survey highlighted a disturbing new trend among global businesses. We believe that the right technology can give companies the confidence they need to credibly measure and report on progress.
Here’s the scoop: many sustainability leaders are deciding not to publicize their sustainability progress in their ESG reporting, outside of what’s required by industry standards such as the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi).
This trend, dubbed ‘greenhushing,’ was the top line finding from climate solutions expert South Pole’s 2022 net zero report, based on a survey of 1,200 sustainability executives from private companies across the globe. The company’s annual report, now in its third year, aims to provide a snapshot of the latest corporate net zero landscape, including the big drivers, roadblocks, and solutions shaping businesses’ climate action.
Why is the potential shift towards greenhushing so concerning?
Greenhushing: Safe for Business, Bad for the Environment
Nearly a quarter (23%) of surveyed organizations are greenhushing — choosing not to communicate their progress in CSR or sustainability reporting beyond the bare mandated minimum.
This decision to forego sharing sustainability-related progress is not due to a lack of resources and effort placed on environmental initiatives — in fact, nearly three quarters (74%) of organizations have chosen to invest more, not less, in reaching net zero targets this year. This begs the question: what is holding companies back from sharing the outcomes associated with those investments?
Some may see it as a way to avoid accusations of greenwashing, a practice in which marketing and public relations efforts are deployed to exaggerate the green credentials of a company or product. Others may be hesitant to share statistics due to fear of failure; as South Pole describes, around a third of surveyed companies said that reaching net zero was actually harder than they expected.
This perceived difficulty could, in our view, also be due to the challenges associated with incorporating new climate solutions into corporate net zero strategies. When it comes to technological carbon removals, for instance (including for nature-based solutions), the lack of clear guidance on “how to use technological carbon removal solutions as part of a corporate net zero journey” was listed as a major deterrent by 42% of the organizations surveyed by South Pole.
No matter the reason, staying silent on climate progress is a problem for decarbonization efforts, especially in the agricultural sector, where many companies struggle to address emissions along complex value chains with multiple suppliers and stakeholders. Not sharing sustainability efforts and lessons learned prevents organizations from working together to achieve net zero goals — something especially detrimental considering that value chain emissions are, on average, 11.4 times higher than operational emissions. Shared progress and collaboration could significantly impact our climate progress. Furthermore, greenhushing does nothing to encourage open conversations around what’s working and what’s not when it comes to global climate action.
South Pole CEO Renat Heuberger commented on the pitfalls of greenhushing in a recent press release:
"The speed at which we are overshooting our planetary boundaries is mindblowing. More than ever we need the companies making progress on sustainability to inspire their peers to make a start. This is impossible if progress is happening in silence.”
Transparent Data Leads to Transparent Outcomes
The best way to combat greenhushing (while also avoiding greenwashing) is to ensure the data used to inform and monitor sustainability initiatives is transparent and precise. Robust data provides better insights, which in turn supports informed decisions about actions that need to be taken. It offers more accurate measurement of the actual outcomes of sustainability initiatives, which is critical in credibly reporting and communicating on progress.
The best way to ensure robust, transparent data on climate action and emissions within the agricultural sector is by using the most suitable, industry-leading technology — technology that can monitor the adoption of sustainable practices with field-level accuracy (that is, the ability to monitor each of a farmer’s individual fields) and scientific models that can estimate the outcomes of sustainable practices in a variety of situations, taking many variables into account in its analyses (variables include regions, crop types, soil types, farming history, etc.).
The technology that measures and informs climate action across agrifood supply chains (such as regenerative practice adoption monitoring, soil carbon models and outcome estimation models) must be developed by academic communities and routinely reviewed, updated and scrutinized by researchers and verifiers, including standards organizations like The Gold Standard or The Climate Action Reserve. On top of this, estimations of reduced emissions reductions and carbon removal should be delivered with additional detail on the margin of error associated with this science. This allows the agriculture industry to gain a more accurate understanding of how different factors can influence estimates, understand the risks associated with these estimates, and plan their climate efforts accordingly.
Regrow’s technology, particularly the DNDC soil carbon model and OpTIS remote sensing algorithm, has been developed to deliver the high-quality data and metrics that companies in food and agriculture companies need to feel confident in their measuring and reporting of — as well as decision-making around — sustainability programs.
From Data to Action
Regrow’s Sustainability Insights offers a solution for this. It’s fueled by DNDC and OpTIS, both of which are leading the industry in monitoring regenerative agriculture practices and estimating their environmental outcomes. It also provides simple methods for quantifying emissions baselines, tracking progress, and reporting outcomes, so decision makers can feel confident about the investments they’re making.
Products like Sustainability Insights offer the transparency needed for companies to avoid greenwashing, and the confidence stakeholders require to steer clear of its equally evil twin: greenhushing.