Corporate Sustainability: Genuine or Just for Show?
As climate issues continue to escalate, sustainability has become crucial to both the environment and modern business models. Consequently, some corporations may promote themselves as sustainable to appeal to consumers without taking the necessary measures, a practice known as greenwashing.
In light of these trends, you may wonder if any corporate investment in sustainability is genuine.
Companies That Champion Environmental Stewardship
While greenwashing is common, certain companies have taken effective steps toward sustainability. Determining businesses’ overall environmental impact can be challenging, but transparency among these companies highlights impressive strides.
Here are three examples of corporations whose sustainability efforts seem genuine.
Construction software company Autodesk placed third on Corporate Knights’ top 100 sustainable companies in 2022. The company already boasts net-zero emissions, powering all its buildings, data centers, and cloud services with renewable energy.
Autodesk’s product itself also improves sustainability. The software helps construction firms streamline their operations and reduce waste, which, in turn, reduces their ecological impact. Even if companies employ it for the business benefits, they still stand to reduce construction-related emissions and solid waste.
Many automakers, from Mercedez-Benz to Lamborghini, are pursuing electrification, Ford was the first U.S. automaker that committed to the Paris Agreement’s CO2 reduction goals. . The company aims to be carbon-neutral by 2050, eliminating manufacturing emissions and water waste on top of vehicle-related emissions.
The company is investing more than $11 billion in electric vehicles, electrifying even iconic gas cars like the Mustang. Ford plans to eventually sell only EVs, eliminating its vehicle emissions entirely.
Tech manufacturing giant Cisco has repeatedly ranked toward the top of sustainability indexes. The company has implemented more than 400 energy efficiency projects in the past five years, and it’s not done yet.
In 2022, Cisco announced plans to achieve net-zero emissions by 2040, 10 years ahead of the Paris Agreement. They’re already on track to meet those goals, as 85% of its electricity comes from renewables, and it’s reduced 60% of its direct and indirect emissions.
Companies That Have Engaged in Greenwashing
While Autodesk, Ford, and Cisco have truly embraced sustainability, going green is merely a marketing tool for others. The following three corporations’ environmental efforts have fallen short of what they seem.
1. SC Johnson
SC Johnson announced a new Windex bottle made of 100% recycled ocean plastic in 2019. This led consumers to believe that the company was taking plastic from the ocean to recycle, but experts pointed out that this isn’t the case.
The plastic SC Johnson and many similar companies used comes from plastic banks in Haiti, Indonesia, and the Philippines. This plastic was “ocean-bound,” meaning it would’ve otherwise ended up in the ocean, but the company made no distinction. This led many consumers to believe they were making a larger impact than they actually were.
IKEA has been outspoken about sustainability, calling for responsible forest management, protecting endangered species, planting trees, and announcing plans to reduce its waste. However, Romanian environmental groups have accused the company of logging without a permit or ecological assessment.
Reporters have also found that IKEA’s wood consumption has doubled in the past decade, despite its public commitment to reduce waste. The company has come under fire for similar allegations in the past.
A recent study found that while oil giant Shell has increasingly mentioned sustainability goals and announced environmental plans, its actual impact has fallen short of these announcements. Shell’s clean energy spending reports only go back three years, and the company has missed its historical low-carbon investment pledges.
The company has also increased its oil production, not decreased it, despite “commitments” to go green. It’s also released statements on social media asking consumers what steps they’re taking to go green, shifting the blame for sustainability away from itself.
Corporate Sustainability Initiatives Are a Mixed Bag
While some companies are going above and beyond to protect the environment, others hinder the movement through rampant greenwashing. Consumers and governments may have to hold these businesses accountable to drive meaningful environmental change.
Money is the most powerful motivator you have at your disposal. If consumers stop buying products from greenwashing brands and instead spend money at genuinely green companies, it can motivate more businesses to embrace sustainability. Spreading awareness of these issues is another important step.
Consumers and environmental organizations should research companies’ environmental efforts before supporting them. Publicly calling out greenwashing examples can drive action like broader boycotts that penalize greenwashing. These movements may eventually lead to stricter environmental regulations, pushing more companies to genuine sustainability.