Becoming a Sustainable Company: What (Not) To Do

Guest Post byJob van Hooijdonk , co-founder of Regreener 

Despite a huge drop in global emissions in 2020 as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, emissions made their comeback and climbed to a record high in 2021. Limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius is becoming an increasingly unlikely scenario. Only if the world comes up with much more ambitious plans to reduce emissions, the Paris Agreement’s goal is still feasible, concludes the UN climate panel IPCC in a report that was released last week.

On a positive note, we see more and more businesses taking their responsibility. The time for pointing fingers is over. Companies realize that they will lose their raison d’être if they do nothing. However, although awareness is there, we also see that lots of companies are afraid to actually start acting “green”. Their biggest fear? Being accused of greenwashing. 

The term greenwashing is like the game over button in fighting climate change. Greenwashing is defined as “the intersection of two firm behaviors: poor environmental performance and positive communication about environmental performance”. In other words: acting green without being green. Although accusations of greenwashing are often justified, we also see many situations in which companies are actually doing good (or trying at least) and still get accused of greenwashing. Here are some do’s and don’ts for companies that want to realize green impact.

Compensation

Don’t: just compensate without thinking about your footprint

If you, as a company, do nothing but buy carbon credits to make claims about being green. Don’t just keep things the way they are and buy off your carbon emissions. Chances are people will say you just buy off your sins, and you will be accused of greenwashing.

Do: focus on reduction and compensation

Analyze, reduce, compensate. That’s the way to go! Make sure you have a view on the current situation by making a thorough analysis (or have one made). How much does the company emit? Subsequently, look at emission hotspots. What are the opportunities for reduction? Often, great progress can be made by making relatively small adjustments in certain areas. After reduction, there will always be emissions left, the so-called rest-emissions. These will have to be (over-)compensated.

Impact

Don’t: focus on “flat” compensation

Companies that are realizing green impact often want to show the world how good they’re doing. In principle, that’s a good thing. Companies can inspire each other (and their customers) to start realizing green impact as well! I think it is good that companies are proud of their green contribution However, we see lots of companies that are solely focused on numbers. An example? Planting one million trees means nothing if you create a monoculture, meaning a “forest” that consists of a single variety representing the same genotype with almost no variation. This is bad for biodiversity and is therefore strongly discouraged by experts.

Do: focus on real, lasting impact

Yes, numbers can give you an indication of what you are doing in terms of green impact. But please, look further than that. When choosing what projects to support, at Regreener we look at four criteria:

  • Capturing carbon: How much carbon is actually removed from the air (or not emitted) as a result of a specific project? Of course, this is a very important component in fighting climate change. However, we do believe there’s much more than this.
  • Impact on biodiversity: We don’t care about just planting trees as many trees as possible. We care about growing forests. This means that the right trees are planted in the right place, giving a massive boost to biodiversity. This way, we can actually restore degraded land! Planting a million trees in the wrong place often does more harm than good. The impact of your green contributions to biodiversity may be difficult to quantify. However, it is definitely something to consider.  
  • Impact on local communities: We look closely at what the consequences of our actions are for local communities. Are we really helping the locals with what we are doing? Do they benefit from Regreener’s contributions? 
  • Available information: It’s not just about green impact, it’s also about providing information to the businesses and consumers that are part of our community. As communication and transparency are essential in building trust, information in very important!

Message

Don’t: show off using sustainability slang

Although it is very inspiring to see companies that are doing good, lots of times we see unclear stories with big promises. No vague stories, half-truths or over-promises. Do not use difficult words because you think they will reinforce your message. Misleading language is often used to present a situation that’s not in line with reality. As soon as people realize they are provided with misleading information all credibility is lost and your green contribution is turning against you.

Do: inspire others by telling a great story

When one does something good, one wants to share it with the world. I think it is something that happens a lot when we talk about green impact. I fully understand that combating climate change is not the core business for many companies. What many companies don’t see is that they could easily make fighting climate change part of their business, no matter what their core business is. Companies like Patagonia and Ecosia are great examples. It’s incredible what companies can achieve if they make fighting climate change part of their business model. Especially if these companies absolutely believe in what they do and create a good story around it. Being extremely transparent about your impact and your points of improvement is a great help as well. It removes any doubt about your sustainability policy among consumers and other businesses. Best thing of all: by telling a good and transparent story about your sustainable policy and the green impact you realize, you can inspire others to do the same. This can lead to an indirect impact that is so unprecedentedly huge, you could make a difference!

Conclusion

The key? Communication. Be honest about where you stand as a company, what you are doing to improve the situation and why you take certain decisions. I think we should fight this battle together, and constantly accusing each other of not being perfect does not help. 

No one will dislike a company just for the fact that they are realizing green impact. No one will blame a company just for trying to do good. People blame companies for making false claims, telling incomplete stories and spreading misinformation. Such practices lead to the great fear of companies that are considering fighting climate change: accusations of greenwashing. 

Even if your company is not perfect (yet), in many cases it is very admirable what companies are achieving. I would like to encourage all companies to get involved in the fight against climate change. Don’t be afraid. It is amazing what can be achieved in terms of restoring nature, even with a limited budget. Get an expert on board, start regreening the world and tell the right, transparent story about what you do. Need help in this process? You know where to find me!

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