It has been a little over two weeks since the COP26 conference in Glasgow. The more I read, I am still grappling with what actually transpired. Numerous financial alliances were formed to champion carbon-neutral initiatives. Will the planned net-zero transition come to fruition or are we going to witness greenwashing?
I am encouraged by one of the positive outcomes of the COP26 conference, the global commitment to a “Race to Zero” movement. Three years ago, only five businesses globally utilized science-based information to clearly outlined their sustainability agenda. At the conclusion of COP26, more than 5000 businesses and 1000 plus municipalities committed to joining the “Race to Zero” for a zero-carbon recovery that prevents climate catastrophes, creates extensive jobs and unlocks wide-ranging, sustainable growth.
Bottomline, human activities are connected to greenhouse emissions. Last month I posted the Advertising Paradox, advocating how people need to be more selective making their lifestyle choices to help mitigate climate change. Fortunately, numerous data points indicate people are concerned about climate change, triggering businesses and policymakers to implement more sustainable, equitable environmental practices. Unfortunately, greenwashing, a form of deceptive marketing spin used to persuade consumers an organization’s products/services, strategic objectives and policies are environmentally friendly (a.k.a. unsubstantiated blah, blah), has materialized.
A classic example of greenwashing was the Volkswagen emissions cheating scandal. In the wake of the COP26 conference, I am going to question the validity of the ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals) climate change announcement at their year-end finals in Turin, Italy which happened to coincide timing wise with the COP26. They plan to align with the UNSCA (the UN Sports Climate Action), thus set ambitious sustainability targets for men’s professional tennis. How? They published a 16-page document online detailing their plans (e.g., track the tour’s resource consumption, reduce staff travel, implement sustainability initiatives at their tournaments, etc.). Total greenwashing! For the record their tournaments (60+) are played on six continents (30+ countries). In addition to conducting a carbon footprint audit associated with the travel of the players, what about all the fans? Are all their lodgings eco-friendly?What about the carbon footprint of the supply chain for all the tennis merchandise/apparel sold to ATP fans? What about the luxurious lifestyles carbon footprints of the top players – private jets, numerous homes, cars, etc., etc., etc.
The “Race to Zero” movement is a positive climate change initiative. I am confident one byproduct is it will advance global sustainability transparency. Hopefully authentic, relevant content versus greenwashing.
You are on the button here. I am totally confused when businesses talk about being “carbon neutral” – have they ticked a box somewhere? Have they agreed to planta tree every time someone orders a coffee (and even if they do, what is the real environmental cost)?
I have just bought an electric car. One of the arguments (which I didn’t swallow) was that this particular VW was “totally carbon neutral” on the grounds that it was made at a factory in Zwickau, Germany, that was powered by hydroelectric power! Amongst other things, electricity flows from where it is made to where it is needed – and my car may have been made at a time when the electricity was being generated in a coal-fired power station. And so it goes on …
And another hobby horse: what do we refence “carbon”? Carbon is diamond or graphite. Do we mean “carbon” as in coal? Or as in carbon dioxide? Or something else? As a nerdy scientist, I’d like to know.
Thanks for listening
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Thank you for weighing in. Excellent POV.
The climate issue is the poster child for BHAGs (big hairy audacious goals). It’s ugly, it’s complicated, there is little consensus about which specific actions will yield very specific results and there is virtually no transparency at any level. Throw in competing international, governmental and special group interests into the mix, not to mention a dictator or two, and well… you get the picture.
On a smaller focused level your tennis example underscores the problem business and groups have. How can they “reimagine” their businesses in an acceptably climate-conscious way? But what would you have them do? Should they eliminate worldwide tournaments? What would be the positive impact on climate change if they did so? Is that even measurable? And what would be the economic fall-out from such a move (on them and the resulting ripple effect)? I don’t believe you’re saying it’s an all or nothing situation, but what is “enough” to satisfy public demand for change and more importantly what is truly “effective” for addressing the problem?
There is a lot of green washing for sure, which is somewhat understandable when you consider that it is marketers who are being asked to communicate the lofty, squishy, poorly defined programs to which their bosses have committed the firms.
Lastly, carbon credits… in my book it’s the environmental-friendly version of bitcoin. The rules are loosey-goosey and are easily manipulated by the uber-wealthy and power-hungry crowd, and they’re used to dupe the rest of us into thinking that they’re doing so much good for the planet.