In recent years, business climate communication has become a spotlight issue to fight off greenwashing, and watchdogs are regularly fining companies for misleading marketing and advertising activities, as has happened lately to Shell with one of their public campaigns on green energy.
Besides, new regulations are shaping the landscape as the EU Parliament and Council new rules are coming to ban generic environmental claims and provide consumers with better product information from 2026.
All these changes seem to put too much pressure on companies, making them afraid to go public about their climate initiatives or plans.
According to the latest Net Zero Report released in January by South Pole, a global organisation supporting companies to achieve net zero emissions, the majority of surveyed companies are intentionally keeping quiet, decreasing their climate communications, otherwise known as 'greenhushing', despite increasing investment in carbon management and climate action.
Data collected from climate-conscious companies revealed that 70 per cent of them admit to 'greenhushing', which is present across nearly every major sector worldwide, from fashion to tech, consumer goods, oil and even environmental services.
The report explored why companies choose not to publicise their climate strategies or goals and deliberately decrease or cease external communications around them by surveying over 1,400 companies with dedicated sustainability leads across 12 countries and 14 sectors.
Reflecting on the result, John Davis, Interim CEO of South Pole, said:
“It reveals that regulation, industry requirements on reporting on climate goals and heightened scrutiny from various stakeholders are the core reasons for companies keeping quiet about their climate goals and progress.”
Scaling down communication happens despite most surveyed respondents (81 per cent) claiming to be on track to meet their net zero goals and recognise the value of communicating climate action.
John Davis, Interim CEO of South Pole. Image source: South Pole
Consumer goods companies marketing food, beverages, and household goods were more likely to be `greenhushing` (86 per cent), more than the oil and gas industry (72 per cent).
Controversially, 93 per cent of surveyed companies see communications as crucial to commercial success, and nearly half (46 per cent) say that customer demand is the number one reason to pursue net zero targets for the third year in a row.
Yet, they are holding back on connecting climate action and communication.
Besides customers, the desire to have better oversight of supply chain risks and to future-proof operations are the leading drivers for pledging net zero goals, surpassing the need to stay ahead of the competition.
Drivers to set net zero company targets over the years. Image source: Net Zero Report 2024, South Pole
Nearly half (44 per cent) of surveyed businesses claimed that due to lack of clarity and changing regulations, they find it more difficult than before to communicate about their net zero plans and actions despite the vast majority (81 per cent) of companies saying it is good for their bottom line.
The study showed that 2025 to 2030 is the most common net zero target year range, which raises some questions about delivering meaningful results.
The Net Zero Report found that over three quarters (76 per cent) of researched companies claim to be increasing their budgets to meet their net zero targets, and the vast majority say they feel like they are “on track" to meeting targets.
“Our latest research shows that too many companies in the surveyed cohort are working towards highly optimistic, possibly even unrealistic, net zero target dates of by 2030 or earlier.
The coming years will either bring unprecedented industry transformations or deep disappointments,”
says Franziska Sinner, Senior Director of Climate Strategies at South Pole.
"What remains crystal clear today, however, is that corporate leaders must step up and speak up if we are to make a dent in this terrifying climate challenge.”
According to another research by Net Zero Tracker, the number of company net zero targets has risen by more than 40 per cent in 16 months from 2022 to 2023 based on numbers from assessing 1000 companies' net zero targets from the Forbes Global 2000 list of the world's largest companies.
However, only 4 per cent of these commitments meet the revised ‘Starting Line criteria’ set out in 2022 by the UN Race to Zero campaign, aiming to have clear and specific measurements and actions in place for carbon offsetting, reduction, and reporting progress.
This resonates with results based on analysing South Pole’s proprietary database of 77,000 listed companies, showing that only 8 per cent have set a net zero target, with 92 per cent having no targets or progress.
The data collected by South Pole in the Net Zero Report for the fourth year strongly suggests that most companies struggle to find the confidence to go public about their carbon management mainly because of their fear of scrutiny by stakeholders, regulatory requirements, and lack of guidance on best practices.
The lack of communication can jeopardise progress on climate action in the business community since there will be no best practices to follow or lessons to learn from.