Special report: A brief history of greenwashing
Raising the standard
A series of announcements over the coming months is set to have a profound effect on how companies publish sustainability reports. They could significantly quicken the pace of the war against greenwashing. Ahead of what promises to be an important period of change, ICAS will be hosting a special summit on sustainability reporting, in London, on 26 April, with speakers such as Judy Kuszewski, Chair of the Global Sustainability Standards Board, which oversees the development of the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI)’s standards. This 10-page report features an interview with Eelco van der Enden, CEO of the GRI, alongside more details about the summit. Read here.
Ideally, reporting standards should become mandatory. But this, as outlined by van der Enden, can often feel like a complex world of various organisations competing to do much the same thing. ICAS supports mandating standards, but believes those of the International Sustainability Standards Board (ISSB) do not go far enough. We would prefer a reporting approach involving an alignment between the ISSB and GRI standards.
More broadly, sustainability is fast becoming an important part of an accountant’s day-to-day role. CAs are exceptionally well placed to work with sustainability experts and decision makers to drive the changes needed in the business, finance and public sectors to meet our collective UK and global net-zero targets. We speak to three CAs who are immersed in the business of sustainability. They explain how it impacts both their work and that of their clients. Read here.
And to highlight how big brands have used sustainability for their own ends – and to underline why the issue is so important – we close with a brief history of greenwashing. Read below.
Ever since climate change became accepted fact rather than a fringe belief, there has been a growing need for companies to be seen to do something about their carbon footprint. Inevitably, their claims don’t always stand up to scrutiny.
Environmentalist Jay Westerveld coins the term “greenwashing”.
Chemical company DuPont runs an ad, to the tune of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, claiming its new oil tankers are safer for the environment. Friends of the Earth responds, pointing out that DuPont is the largest corporate polluter in the US.
General Electric’s EcoImagination campaign trumpets the US giant’s green credentials, a mere five years after it fought new clean air regulations all the way to the Supreme Court.
A Nestlé ad claims that “bottled water is the most environmentally responsible consumer product in the world”, and that most water bottles avoid landfill sites and are recycled. At that time, only around a third of plastic bottles are being recycled.
Documents reveal that Coca-Cola has spent a number of years opposing a bottle deposit scheme in Scotland. Following a wave of negative publicity, the firm reverses its stance and supports the scheme.
Mars pledges to make 30% of its plastic packaging from recycled content by 2025. But its claim includes a caveat on its website that the goal is “dependent on advancement of chemical recycling at pace”. Many scientists consider chemical recycling “a false solution”, worse than landfilling the rubbish.
McDonald’s responds to campaigners’ pressure by replacing its plastic straws with new paper ones – which, it is subsequently revealed, cannot be recycled.
Ryanair claims to be the“lowest emissions” airline in Europe, despite no concrete evidence to support the claim. The adverts are promptly banned by the Advertising Standards Authority.
US chemical giant Dow and Singapore’s government promise to turn the rubber from discarded old shoes into playground and running-track surfaces. Reuters reporters deposit some shoes with hidden trackers – which promptly turn up on second-hand market stalls in Indonesia.
A study of the websites of 12 leading European fashion brands, including Asos, H&M and Zara, finds 60% of their environmental claims could be classed as “unsubstantiated” or “misleading”.