A Solution to Corporate Green Washing

A Sustainable Environment: Our Obligation to Protect God’s Gift

by George P. Nassos

A Solution to Corporate Green Washing

With sustainability and ESG getting more attention, companies are making sweeping climate commitments to sell themselves as green even though their greenhouse gas emissions are growing. You really have to be careful when reading about a company’s commitment to achieve a certain goal. Some companies are even transferring or selling large carbon emission operations to reduce their carbon footprint but those emissions will still exist.

One way to get a better idea of a company’s mission and achievement is to look at some databases that conduct research to really determine what the company is doing. One such database is CDP, formerly known as Climate Disclosure Project. It evaluates about 12,000 companies and scores them with letter grades from A to D. These are the only companies that have agreed to share their data with CDP.

Another tool is called the Net Zero Tracker, and it assesses about 2,000 companies that have made a pledge to achieve “net zero” in terms of their greenhouse gas emissions. When a company pledges to be net zero by a certain date, what does that really mean? For many of them, they have committed to achieve a net zero in emissions from the processing of their products (Scope 1) and the emissions from the energy consumed in their production (Scope 2). However, in most cases the emissions generated from the supply chain (Scope 3) tend to be greater but are not included in the company’s net zero pledge. Net Zero Tracker recently found that less than a third of the 2,000 companies with a net zero pledge covered all Scope 3 emissions.

It appears that companies have made commitments to their stakeholders (customers, suppliers, employees, shareholders, community) that they will be green and become an ESG company — environmental, social and governance. If they really want to truly be considered sustainable, or ESG, what are they really doing to get there? Many of them take the first step and hire a Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO), or equivalent. But is that really enough?

Having a CSO in a company is a great start but it is a slow process in achieving the company’s goal because the several thousand company employees don’t understand what is environmental sustainability and how to get there. If most, or all, of the employees had any understanding of sustainability, they would all work together to achieve that goal. The workers would think of ways to be more energy efficient, as an example. They would find ways to create less waste in the production process. They would find ways to consume less water, a resource that is becoming more precious every day. The next question is what does the company have to do for its employees to understand sustainability?

An obvious answer to training a company’s employees is to send them to a school offering degrees in Environmental Management & Sustainability or Sustainability Management or something similar. Just like starting with a CSO, sending select managers to take courses in sustainability is a good start. However, rather than sending the company’s employees to a school to learn about sustainability, what is faster, more cost effective, and company focused is to bring the school to the company. Basically, have a sustainability expert conduct classes for the company employees.

The lead trainer in a situation like this would spend a short period of time understanding the company’s business so he could design the courses to apply to the company’s products and services. The lead trainer will most likely require to bring in some other instructors who have expertise in various aspects of sustainability. The training could easily be conducted as a hybrid program with the instructor coming to the company’s facility to teach a class while other employees can attend virtually from other company locations.

The next big question is where one finds qualified instructors for such a situation. Being that sustainability is a relatively new strategy, there are not that many qualified instructors. The first place to look is at business schools that offer programs in sustainability. They may have programs that can be designed for specific companies. Another option would be to look for authors of excellent books about sustainability and see if they have any teaching experience. Perhaps the ideal instructor might be one who worked in the corporate world and then went into academia, thus bringing his corporate experience to the classroom and merged it with sustainability. They do exist but are few and far between.