Greenwashing – an opportunity for us to identify what is needed to bring the smaller firms on board?

10th December 2021

Author: Kevin Phun

There has been much unhappiness, in writing and other forms of communication, towards the practice of greenwashing. Perhaps, we ought to take a different but not necessarily a lax or lenient view of greenwashing. 

The proliferation of corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities has happened partly due to the fact that many initiatives can now be classified as CSR. With the growth of the types of CSR activities, there will be an increase in the occurrence of greenwashing. This then calls for CSR activities to show more depth.  

One big part of greenwashing is incomplete and/or inaccurate information that exist, in part because the process of gathering the information could be flawed. The gathering of information is key to many if not all CSR activities, since it seems to be a critical component in the effectiveness of those activities.

Greenwashing provides the opportunity to perhaps dig deeper at the reasons why there are gaps in the implementation. And perhaps, we may be able to uncover some interesting truths; unequal access and allocation of resources, for example, comes to mind as a possible reason for some firms to fall short in their deliver of CSR practices.

Greenwashing is not to be condoned but perhaps it can be looked at with some empathy, at least for some cases. The failure to identify practicalities and constraints faced by some CSR managers, likely will contribute to the perpetuation of greenwashing.

There has been much said and spoken about getting small and medium enterprises (SMEs) on board the sustainable development bandwagon. To get more of them (SMEs) to be on board, there might perhaps need to be a shift in the way we see greenwashing. We need to acknowledge that greenwashing is potentially presenting us an opportunity to work with the private sector to shape and influence their business practices, by helping them identify and deal with the same obstacles and limitations many especially the smaller players face, in carrying out sustainability practices.

Greenwashing is bad, no part of this writing encourages or condones it. What is being said is that we must try to see it from a slightly different angle. Greenwashing could be committed, or could happen, due to actions taken unknowingly.

Measuring the impacts of CSR initiatives, complicated as it may sound or be, with many different initiatives potentially requiring creative methodology to measure, could be one of the keys to reduce greenwashing, especially amongst smaller firms.

Measuring initiatives could hold the key to improving practices, or CSR initiatives, as it may be seen as a more encouraging way to track and monitor progress. Measuring could also be key to increase motivation, one important ingredient for increased participation in sustainable practices.

It could therefore be beneficial for small firms in their certification journey, as measuring impacts often tends to resonate a lot with certification related tasks. Certification providers potentially also benefit from being able to know the constraints companies face in the pursuit of sustainable practices. The improvement or fine tuning of standards and criteria can happen when greenwashing offers an insight into the reasons for missteps.

In the end, we must perhaps relook at the level of scorn and negativity surrounding greenwashing and see it from an angle of opportunities for progress in improving practices. Greenwashing can be something that can bring together the different stakeholders in order to identify best practices and maybe also reinvent how some CSR practices are carried out.   

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