SLP Environmental Co., Ltd - An ASEAN Environmental Consultancy

Actions speak louder than greenwash

The road to hell is paved with good intentions but it’s time for businesses to stop jumping on the green bandwagon and take decisive action in the battle against climate change and environmental degradation.

One has only to walk out of the front door these days to be assailed with messages from companies proclaiming their green credentials. Manufacturers, retailers and developers are falling over themselves in their rush to surf the green wave. Unfortunately for us all however, you usually only have to scratch the surface of their claims to find that nine times out of ten it is just ‘greenwash’ generated by a marketing department.

As commendable as it is to encourage shoppers to replace plastic carrier bags with reusable cloth bags, this in itself will not ‘save the planet’ as is so often claimed on the billboards. Whilst we should all applaud businesses who seek to raise public awareness of environmental issues, it is also fairly evident that some unscrupulous companies are capitalising on the green theme merely as a PR exercise designed to swell their coffers.

If businesses are serious about joining the battle against climate change and environmental degradation, then their efforts would be best spent exploring what tangible actions they can take to significantly reduce their environmental footprints, rather than coming up with new marketing gimmicks. Undertaking an environmental sustainability appraisal is a useful first step in this regard. This normally takes the form of a detailed audit of a companies operations and activities with respect to the key environmental sustainability indicators such as; energy, transportation, waste management, natural resource usage, emissions to environmental media and local ecology.

Carbon quantification, commonly referred to as carbon footprinting, is a common component of the assessment process which involves the calculation of the carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2E) emissions associated with the specific activities and operations of a particular business. Determining a company’s carbon footprint is the critical first step in developing an effective carbon management strategy, as it sets the benchmark against which all future improvements and modification to practices and activities will be measured.

Bespoke carbon footprint modelling is a complex exercise which grows even more challenging if the embodied energy associated with actual materials such as steel and plastic is included. For example, whilst a Business Manager may be justifiably proud that his new trucks run on compressed natural gas, he is unlikely to know the full story behind the carbon emissions associated with the lifecycle of the vehicles. The steel used in their construction has ultimately been mined, smelted and cast, the plastic started life as crude oil and the factory where it was all put together consumed energy. To put the importance of embodied energy into perspective it is worth noting that for every 1000kg of cement produced nearly 900kg of CO2E is emitted into the atmosphere.

The Building Sector is responsible for the largest consumption of fossil fuels and natural resources in the world today, yet innovative, and often simple, modifications to construction and services design can lessen their impact on our environment through energy and resource efficiency. Simple passive solutions in tropical countries can include: sun shading, building orientation and placement, less reliance on materials with a high thermal mass and the use of natural ventilation and recycled building materials. More active solutions include the use of solar panels and wind turbines to generate renewable energy.

As more and more purportedly ‘green’ buildings fill the SE Asian skyline, how can we as potential purchasers be sure that a particular developer’s claims are not just more greenwash? Surely it’s time for SE Asian countries to implement a formal third party rating and certification process such as the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System promoted by the U.S. Green Building Council. LEED certification provides independent, third-party verification by accredited professionals that a building project meets the highest green building and performance standards, is environmentally responsible and will provide a healthy place to live and work. LEED projects are in progress in 41 different countries, although to date only two projects have been certified in ASEAN countries; one in Thailand and one in Singapore.

The magnitude of the challenge faced by humanity in the face of climate change and environmental degradation is truly daunting, and one that requires a serious and considered response by business. Businesses need to understand that hawking greenwash in the face of such a global threat is entirely irresponsible as it trivialises the extent of the problem by suggesting there’s a painless quick fix which in turn promotes complacency amongst the public. The irony is that practicing good environmental governance also makes sound economic sense. Companies that actively reduce their environmental impact are more sustainable, profitable, valuable, competitive and socially responsible. This is good for the economy and the environment, often referred to as the win-win scenario. Those that fail to address their environmental impacts, but instead focus their efforts on greenwash campaigns, will ultimately be less successful, as the exploitation of resources for short-term gain is detrimental to the economy and the environment. This is a short-sighted lose-lose strategy that risks taking us all down with it.

Customer comments

No comments were found for Actions speak louder than greenwash. Be the first to comment!