10 steps to avoid greenwashing

Published on January 24, 2023

Over the last few years, companies have jumped into the climate fray with gusto, announcing net-zero commitments and speaking ardently about doing their part. 

But talk is cheap, and decarbonization is difficult. While a third of the world’s largest companies have net zero goals, only 7 percent of those companies are on-track to meeting them. The rest are, intentionally or not, greenwashing.

Late last year, a United Nations-sponsored panel took aim at greenwashing, creating a framework for what a credible net-zero emissions plan looks like. The report, “Integrity Matters: Net zero commitments by businesses, financial institutions, cities and regions,” outlines the best thinking of 17 climate experts from around the world. 

The outcome is 10 recommendations that could be used as a rubric for how seriously a company is taking its climate pledges and, hopefully, bring more integrity and trust to climate commitments across the board. 

The main recommendations are that businesses should set science-based targets that are in line with limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, and that they should develop plans to achieve net zero emissions by no later than 2050. In order to achieve this, businesses should take a holistic approach that addresses all of their emissions, including those from their operations, supply chains, and products.

Businesses need to take immediate action to reduce their emissions. This includes implementing energy efficiency measures, switching to renewable energy sources, and investing in low-carbon technologies. The panel also recommends that businesses engage with their suppliers and customers to encourage them to take similar actions.

Businesses should disclose their emissions, set targets, and provide transparent and verifiable information about their progress towards achieving net zero.

Businesses should invest in carbon sequestration and negative emissions technologies, such as reforestation, afforestation, and soil carbon sequestration, to remove and store carbon from the atmosphere.

In order to achieve net zero emissions by 2050, businesses will also need to innovate and develop new products, services, and business models that are low-carbon. This includes developing new technologies and processes that reduce emissions, as well as investing in research and development to create new products and services that are more sustainable.

The report also recommends that businesses work with governments and other stakeholders to develop and implement policies and regulations that support the transition to a low-carbon economy. This includes working with governments to develop carbon pricing mechanisms, such as carbon taxes and cap-and-trade systems, as well as supporting policies and regulations that encourage the development and deployment of low-carbon technologies.

In short, there is a lot that can and needs to be done and not very much time to do it. Procrastination is not an option for the planet or for the viability of individual businesses.

Source: Keith Bradley