How is it possible that accusations of misleading communications from companies are becoming more recurrent? Why are high-profile firms at the source of current environmental scandals?
“Greenwashing is the selective disclosure of positive information without full disclosure of negative information so as to create an overly positive corporate image” (Bowen & Aragon-Correa, 2014). A company promotes environmentally-friendly initiatives about a product or service, when it actually operates in a way that damages the environment and that is contrary to their public claim. And sometimes, the companies that spend the most money and time trying to show to the public that they are contributing to the transition towards a more sustainable world, are also among the ones that have the biggest negative environmental impact. They give themselves credit for being part of the solution while, ironically, they are in reality part of the problem.
An example? Canada Goose. The company has deceived consumers by claiming that it does its part in protecting the environment, by joining forces with Polar Bears International to support the conservation of polar bear habitats, which drags the attention to other ethical issues while it continues with its cruelty against animals. A most famous example is Volkswagen; when the company intentionally violated an environmental law by cheating emissions testes and tried to keep it a secret. It had initially backed its sales with a misleading marketing campaign which proclaimed its cars’ low emissions.
Such scandals have increased the public’s awareness of environmental issues. Companies are making an effort to address these concerns and many of these environmentally-friendly initiatives have actually made a positive impact. I believe that it is a long-standing assumption that stands between the companies that perform well and those who perform poorly when responding to these environmental pressures. It is the assumption that investment in environmental capital comes as an additional cost in the short-term and that economic capital should be the sole focus. As a response to this increasing public pressure, companies need to implement a systematic change of internal mechanisms instead of simply changing their brand image. Companies such as Unilever, which has integrated a long-term environmental aspect into its strategy, are the ones that are making a positive impact. They have realised that it is a benefit, a competitive advantage, a solution.
I believe the main insight from the conference is that present and future generations need to show consistent and active commitment in facilitating the transition towards a more sustainable world, in which economic, social and natural capital can co-exist and thrive. The whole experience taught me that we need to have consideration for beyond us. Because soon, we will have exploited all of the planet’s resources and there will be nothing left to compete for.