Leading Change

Seeing Green

By Saskia Verraes

Green is an interesting word. It has many positive connotations like the beautiful colour of healthy leaves on many plants and trees. It is also used for envy, feeling sick, naivety and it can also be used to refer to money. It plays important roles in certain nations, like Ireland. It also symbolises death in many South American Nations (1)

It is almost no wonder that we also have found ‘green’ mixed up in the sustainability language of organisations, which is as confusing as the word itself and can indeed be linked to actual regeneration and health, as well as being used purely for money and to cover up the negatives.

This week alone, there have been reports of greenwashing by many large corporations, who often get highlighted for their great sustainability focus, like Ikea, Unilever and Walmart as well as a report from Morningstar that around 1 in 5 of their funds (equating to US$1 Trillion) that claimed ‘sustainability’ are not worthy of that tag. At the same time we do see green and the link to money as continued research shows (like this one around food and packaging) that a majority of consumers are driven by sustainability claims on their purchases.

Luckily, 48% of global consumer expenditure comes from those between 16 and 40 years of age and 63% don’t believe the claims made by the large corporates anyway, as reported by Credit Suisse Research Institute (CSRI) .

It’s no wonder that we had a lively discussion this week in the Leading Beyond Sustainability live session on how to know if what you read is true, or if it’s greenwashing. Also no wonder that on the other hand, organisations that are authentic and responsible, are looking for frameworks that they can apply that make their claims transparent, and give them credibility around the impact they are generating. And lastly, it’s also no wonder that organisations pop up everywhere to try and provide transparency about what is actually being done without having to rely on individual claims, like Climate TRACE.

Unfortunately there is no one answer, no template. The world is not that linear. There are many things that you and your organisation can do though: Educate yourself, ask questions, talk to people you trust about these things and do not take a claim for granted. Look for actions, and actual impact. Whether this is for a product you are buying, a claim someone in your organisation is making or something you read in the media. Ask questions, find and learn to understand the data, look for transparency. As an organsation, if you want to be taken seriously, you have to be prepared make to build that transparency in, the good and the bad. You have to stand up and talk about it, and more importantly, do as you say.

Make sure you look green in the eyes, all sides of it.

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