“Say on Climate”: GreenWashing, HushWashing or BrainWashing ?

06 November 2023

The news surrounding climate issues is still as intense as ever and we should probably not complain about it.


A debate was held in the French Parliament on October 9 on the “Green Industry” bill (“Loi industrie verte“); on this occasion, an amendment, against the advice of the Government, was tabled on the “Say On Climate”.  As a reminder, “Say On Climate” means a systematic vote of shareholders on the climate strategy of listed companies with the objective of introducing resolutions relating to ESG (Environment/Social/Governance) principles.

Even though “Say on Climate” has ultimately been removed from the bill, this episode illustrates the thinking that currently drives companies displaying a degree of shareholder activism.

The “Say on Climate” has indeed reached AGMs; thus in 2022, 46 listed groups, on their own initiative, had their climate plans approved by their shareholders: a third were British groups such as Glencore, Barclay, Anglo American, Aviva and BP; a quarter were French like EDF, Engie, Amundi or Carrefour but none of these groups were American.

On the shareholder side, the result is less convincing since the average scores validating a climate resolution fell from 94.2% to 88.5% in 2022; large asset managers have also hardened their stance: BNP P only supported 22% of the climate resolutions submitted by company management compared with 76% in 2021 and Amundi approved 40% compared with 95% the year before.

From Greenwashing to Greenhushing : the way to heaven ?

It is only logical that companies want to communicate using the best storytelling to report on its activities. But to sin, is not only doing harm, it is also not doing good, say the sacred texts. Sticking to this biblical vision, it is unlikely that many companies will obtain their “Green Card” in Purgatory for saving the Planet.

This is why many companies have suddenly become amnesiac on the aspect of their sustainability commitments, rather than risk seeing their activities disrupted by very determined activists or their reputations damaged: this is called Green-hushing, when a company adopts a “radio silence” approach to environmental goals.

The French Financial Markets Authority (AMF) takes on sustainability

The very serious AMF has just taken a position that is as relevant as it is responsible in its annual report on corporate governance and the remuneration of directors of listed companies.

It focuses on the CSR skills and training of directors, encouraging companies to publish an individualised presentation of directors’ skills, to define the skills required depending on the type of committee and to be transparent about the extent to which these requirements are met. The appointment of a CSR adviser from among the directors is also encouraged.

With regard to executive remuneration, the AMF points out that the AFEP-MEDEF code requires companies to ensure that CSR performance criteria and sub-criteria, and in particular the “climate” indicators for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, are strict. The issue of gender parity is also addressed.