This post is commentary on Hunter Richards‘ article “Software to Hold Greenwashers Accountable” published in the Software Advice Blog.
It is very much the wild west in the world of green advertising and corporate “green certification” programs. With little confirmation or verifiable standards, companies can appeal to a growing eco-awarness among consumers with little fundamental backing for such claims. Scientifically honed messages push an image of eco-friendliness and sustainability, stretching the truth at best and often peddling outright lies.
Like a parasite, greenwashing makes it that much more difficult for business and consumers alike to find a healthy balance between commerce and long term sustainability. Greenwashing is insidious, confusing consumers interested in making right choices for their families, tainting the idea of “green,” and leaving many cynical and apathetic to the idea – even as many companies make honest and significant efforts to become more sustainable and offer more eco-friendly choices.
But how to curb the temptation to go for the quick buck that some simply can’t resist? Is there a way to tame the “wild west” of greenwashing?
A new sheriff in town – carbon accounting software
Writing in the blog Software Advice, Hunter Richards makes the case for taking a page from the methods and tools used to hold corporations accountable for their financial reporting and apply those same concepts to “carbon accounting.”
Richards argues that, despite the recent widespread shenanigans on Wall Street, the United States remains a leader in corporate financial accountability. Using computerized financial tracking, combined with rigorous government oversight and generally accepted accounting principals (GAAP), companies are required to accurately account for their financial dealings and reporting. There have been obvious breaches in the system, but with modern software technology, regulation, and GAAP, Enron-style subterfuge would be much more the norm than the exception.
With the advent and growth of Enterprise Carbon Accounting software (ECA), combined with accepted principals of accountability, the same can be true of how corporations report their environmental footprint.
But to be effective, ECA technology must integrate with a solid infrastructure of principals; Richards lays out five fundamental principals:
- Clear government action on regulations
- Adoption of carbon accounting principles
- Expansion of “Scope 3” emissions accounting
- Better business incentives to go green
- Demanding, informed consumers
Richards describes these principals in greater detail in his article, but generally speaking, I take these points generally as working to insure transparency, awareness, and responsibility in green claims and reporting. From top to bottom all participants – government, business, and consumers – must take on the responsibility of creating, cajoling, and demanding a green economy. This requires informed decision-making by consumers that rests on honest and transparent reporting and information from business.
A tall order
I have no argument with Richards’ premise. But given the current political climate – as it were – over global warming, anything smacking of carbon regulation, even if it means just honest reporting of carbon footprint, feels like a tough sell.
That doesn’t mean it isn’t worthwhile or unnecessary. In fact quite the opposite – it is essential, and we face probably some of the toughest times ahead in fighting resistance to substantive change. The push-back to an economy-wide adoption of basic environmental accounting – ultimately the fundamental cost of doing business – comes principally from vested interests entrenched in the “old” economy, where any environmental regulation equates to “lost jobs” or “economic hardship.” It is a false choice. So many use greenwashing simply to placate the public with slick greenwash while spend billions lobbying Congress to stop or weaken effective regulation.
Those stuck in a failed status quo, cynically greenwashing the truth to exploit a marketing trend, must be held accountable.
Will carbon accounting software and standards eliminate greenwashing?
No, at least not entirely.
As with lapses in financial accounting, greenwashing will not likely be completely vanquished, even under strict carbon accounting principals. Like I said earlier in this post, greenwashing is insidious, as the latest greenwash ad campaign from Chevron demonstrates.
But we must work to make it harder and more difficult for such campaigns to gain traction, easier for consumers to spot greenwashing when they see it, and provide business with clear rules and incentives that makes greenwashing unproductive and real sustainability the best choice for forward-thinking companies to thrive in the new economy.
Image credit: Carbon Statement