What is Greenhushing?: Scepticism & Environmental Progress
Growing awareness of imminent environmental collapse among consumers, employees, and investors has led to organisations attempting to capitalise on sustainability without making meaningful changes. This greenwashing practice not only promotes false solutions but also delays credible action taking place, posing a serious threat to meaningful progress.
Global backlash has been incredibly important for helping to separate the greenwashing organisations from those taking effective action. Nowhere has this been clearer than within the carbon offsetting marketplace.
However, while journalists focus so heavily on the imperfections of the carbon industry, they divert attention from those who are not taking any action whatsoever.
As a result, organisations looking to take meaningful action are now less likely to take any action at all for fear of greenwashing. We are even witnessing an alarming trend of brands ‘greenhushing’ – downplaying their sustainability work to avoid any scrutiny. With flooding and wildfires causing devastation worldwide, now is not the time to delay.
As the marketplace for nature restoration continues to emerge, we must consider what we can learn from the carbon markets to ensure that nothing prohibits vital action taking place. To achieve meaningful results for nature, we need to demand transparency, governance, and rigorous scientific frameworks – but it is important not to let striving for perfection hinder progress.
Why might ‘greenwashing’ scepticism pose a threat to urgent action?
Taking action is crucial in addressing ecosystem collapse and combatting climate change in order to achieve the Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) targets. It is important to promote responsible actions and counter misleading claims responsibly.
However, we cannot impede investments in nature-based solutions if we aim to meet the United Nations Environment Programme's goal of allocating approximately $230 million annually to address the collapse of ecosystems.
The emerging biodiversity credits marketing is under scrutiny, some just, and some unjust. The market must ensure that high-integrity projects are carried out if we’re to have any hope of enacting meaningful change.
However, greenwashing issues within the carbon market should not be applied to nature restoration projects purely by association.
If we ignore vital nuance and tar this new market, still in its infancy, with the same brush – we’ll cause serious delays which cannot be afforded. We urgently need nature restoration now.
What does it mean to become ‘nature-positive’?
Nature-related risk disclosure, via emerging frameworks such as the Science-Based Targets Network (SBTN) and the upcoming Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures (TNFD), will no doubt become mandatory in the very near future – making it a requirement for organisations to disclose their impacts and dependencies on nature.
Becoming 'nature-positive' involves understanding and addressing nature-related risks and impacts. This includes reducing impacts on biodiversity, as well as investing in both nature conservation and restoration.
The Environment Act 2021’s policy for Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) establishes a fantastic example of working against greenwashing. Its ‘mitigation hierarchy’ demands that impact must first be avoided, then it can be mitigated, and then it can be compensated for elsewhere – and only in that specific order.
It is essential to recognise that focusing on only one aspect is insufficient, with negative consequences for both the environment and brand image. Actions to avoid, mitigate, and restore biodiversity impacts must all be taken together. Therefore, it is crucial to prioritise transparency and integrity throughout the process – not only reducing current and future impacts, but restoring the damage already done.
What can we learn from the voluntary carbon market?
The voluntary carbon market provides valuable lessons for sustainability efforts. For nature to have hope of recovery, we need to avoid similar pitfalls. The assumptions made in REDD+ projects (the REDD+ framework was established to protect forests as part of the Paris Agreement) were not entirely accurate, highlighting the need for rigorously accurate monitoring, reporting, and verification standards.
Unfortunately, due to greenwashing scandals, the legitimacy of carbon offsetting has been questioned, causing many companies to halt their carbon offsetting efforts altogether, therefore regressing in their sustainability progress.
To brand all carbon offsets as ‘greenwashing’ misses vital nuance. Of course, we need to encourage organisations to reduce their carbon footprint rather than just offsetting but to ignore the need for offsetting altogether is totally unrealistic – and counterproductive.
So, we need to acknowledge that merely being carbon neutral is not enough, and organisations should strive to become carbon positive. Similarly, we cannot repair the damage that has already been done if we simply mitigate current and future harm, that’s why restoring biodiversity is the key to recovery – this means becoming nature-positive.
But unlike carbon offsetting, which could be theoretically carried out anywhere – ecosystem recovery must be more localised. When it comes to nature restoration, action should be carried out in locations that offer the maximum biodiversity benefits, and projects must be conducted with the highest levels of integrity to rebuild confidence in positive action.
One key benefit of this is that organisations will be in closer proximity to the work being carried out, unlike in carbon offsetting markets where the offsets could be made on the other side of the globe. Businesses operating predominantly in the UK, for example, should be investing in UK-based nature recovery.
This does, therefore, gives us a better chance of delivering the appropriate levels of monitoring and transparency required to nature is being restored with integrity. It also has the capability to directly benefit local communities by delivering biodiversity uplifts in proximity to the site of impact.
How can organisations invest in meaningful nature restoration?
Organisations can invest in nature restoration through various means. One mechanism is the emerging voluntary biodiversity credits market, where projects can be undertaken on a significant scale to make a meaningful impact.
Ecological connectivity should always be considered, ensuring that restoration efforts take into account the interconnectedness of different ecosystems – making them far more effective.
It is important to remember that investments in nature-based solutions not only benefit the environment but also contribute to mitigating nature-related financial risks. Keeping this in mind will aid in the allocation of budgets for nature restoration.
Our effective solution: What are Nature Shares?
Nature Shares is Environment Bank’s solution for organisations looking to take the next step on their nature-positive journey, something entirely separate from offsetting products such as our Biodiversity Units for the BNG market.
Environment Bank specialises in restoring lost biodiversity and we aim to bring about significant and measurable change, with a focus on providing transparency through the sharing of methodologies and data outputs. Through Nature Shares, we are delivering landscape-scale recovery projects designed to maximise ecological connectivity and community enrichment.
We are now delivering measurable results, confident that our long-term projects will yield remarkable uplifts for biodiversity. We are now inviting businesses to join with us on the path to nature recovery and take a share in these uplifts for their entire lifetime.