Earlier this month, Greenpeace called out another corporate giant Nestlé for ‘greenwashing’ (1). It seems we’re hearing more and more of corporations trying to disguise their environmental sins in this age of pseudo-sustainability, which led me to question; can we ever live in a truly transparent world, and what would this world look like?
If you think you know how sustainable you’re being, think again. That ‘recyclable’ paper Costa coffee cup you recently threw in the paper bin so responsibly – less than 1% of those actually get recycled (2). This is just one example of where you may have been misled by a technicality somewhere, which a corporation would gladly suck into its green-marketing agenda. This isn’t to make you feel guilty about buying a Costa or having a Nestlé cappuccino, this is just to question your awareness of the impact your consumption has without your knowledge. After all, when millions in advertising spend goes into diverting your attention to their sustainably grown coffee beans, how could you know possibly know?
…But what if we could?
Evidently, no-one could ever know every fact about the sustainability of each component of their next purchase. But perhaps if someone did the deep digging for us, to produce a single quantitative figure to say on the whole how sustainable a corporation is, we could buy into products with a certain level of assurance that this company is for the best part sustainable. Well, Bloomberg are working towards something like this, with their Dow Jones Sustainability Index (DJSI) partnership (3). Currently, companies are invited to complete their own Corporate Sustainability Assessment, and companies with a DJSI in the top 10% of their industry are listed on the DSJI World Index. Although a great place to start, self assessments always leave the question of reliability in the numbers produced.
Arratia Ramon believes that full product transparency can be achieved by businesses carrying out lifecycle assessments on all of their products, and declaring all the information factually and publicly in easily understood metrics (4). Companies that adopt this will in my opinion be leading the way to revolutionising consumer behaviour and decision making. However, I still believe it will take compulsory 3rd party auditing by organisations such as Bloomberg to get this transition to global transparency off the ground.
To conclude this post, I picture the ultimate vision for a market with perfect information on corporate sustainability to be all organisations being required to have independent assessments taken of the sustainability of their business activity, and a universal index quantifying this result placed on every product or service. This way, consumers will be able to instantly compare the sustainability of a company, without having to know the legitimacy of every sustainability claim a corporation makes. More importantly, it encourages corporations to address all facets of sustainability in unison, rather than just reacting to one piece of legislation at a time, making transparency perhaps one of the most revolutionary changes to global sustainability we might see.
By Michael Kinder, 29th April 2018
- Chow, L., (April 2018). Nestlé’s Plastic Initiative Called ‘Greenwashing’ by Greenpeace [Article], https://www.ecowatch.com/nestle-plastic-pollution-greenpeace-2558963533.html [Date Accessed: 26.04.18]
- GABBATISS, J., (Jan 2018). Disposable coffee cups: How big a problem are they for the environment? The Independent (Online).
- Kohn, K., (Oct 2016). With Bloomberg Partnership, the Dow Jones Sustainability Index Is Changing Its Game. https://www.bsr.org/our-insights/blog-view/with-bloomberg-partnership-dow-jones-sustainability-index-changing-its-game [Date Accessed: 26.04.18]
- ARRATIA, R., 2017. Full Product Transparency: Cutting the Fluff Out of Sustainability. 1 edn. Oxford: Routledge Ltd.