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Namrata Zala

November 29, 2022

Corporate Greenwashing In The Era of Sustainability

More often than not, what you see is not what you get.

The discourse around sustainability efforts and the transparent communication of such is rapidly changing. With global collaborative efforts to reduce carbon emissions - accelerated by last year’s COP26 and the recently held COP27 - and rising awareness of consumers across the globe, the pace of sustainability change is only increasing.

One consequence of the spike in conversation around achieving global sustainability targets is that the repercussions of corporate greenwashing are becoming direr. Only a few years ago, unfulfilled, vague promises and “green marketing” tended to get off relatively scot-free. However, the era of COVID-19 brought about changes through our active contemplation and move to consume more intentionally - whether the general consumer or an investor, there are lower levels of tolerance for disingenuous messaging around the cause. 

As a result, companies are pledging to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions to zero. Thirty-four per cent of Accenture’s Global 2000 companies (including the likes of Apple, Amazon, and JPMorgan Chase, among others) have publicly announced net-zero targets; unless progress is accelerated by an exponential amount, a mere 7% of companies will fulfil their aim. With a lack of transparency for the plans laid out to reach these goals, few milestones are visibly put in place to help measure progress. 

We’ve seen in history - through politics - how much power transparency can have around any cause. Covering something up can often be more catastrophic than what needs to be covered up itself. The allure of the approval that comes with a sustainability initiative tends to tap best into what CEOs are great at, but this can be easily foiled when their skills are used in a non-transparent way to greenwash: out goes the great public perception, and inevitably, the market share. According to Accenture, organisations claiming green practices should not simultaneously act against climate policies through investing in fossil fuels or failing to report the total volume of their greenhouse gas emissions. Regulators are urged to make it mandatory for companies to publicly disclose the progress made towards net zero through tangible, comparable data. 

However, the implementation of more stringent rules around disclosure may inadvertently lead to what is called “green-hushing”. A report issued in 2022 by South Pole tells us that about one-in-four businesses would rather not disclose their emissions-based targets. Not publicising their progress makes their targets harder to nit-pick and create pressure around, particularly from climate activists.  

Finding the correct balance between transparency and depth to messages and tone is key for any company to push communication consumption for any stakeholder. Recently, the American government launched a new plan to get large firms in wealthy economies to purchase carbon credits from developing countries to add to their renewable-power-generation capacity. This move was not free of criticism, noting that in theory, this could provide the necessary capital to scale up energy in developing markets, but when not regulated properly, places where carbon credits are bought and sold fail to deliver climate benefits. Without proper practices, this could lead to more greenwash. 

Companies like Credible Carbon are essential to note here, where there are thorough auditing practices to ensure compliance with the Credible Carbon Standard.

Find out more here.

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