Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Going green or just greenwash? Group warns against gimmicks by big businesses

Environmentalist says many corporations don't walk the talk, and just want to put up a front to show their love for the planet.

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An environmentalist group warns that Malaysians are among the culprits contributing to a losing battle for sustainable living, with many local companies playing double-face when it comes to “going green”.

The Environmental Protection Society of Malaysia said a recent report by the Carbon Disclosure Project, which reveals that 100 companies are responsible for 71% of greenhouse gas emissions – blamed for climate change – was a wake-up call for corporations to “do what is right”.

“As it is, we in Malaysia are already consuming the resources of 2.2 planets without adjusting for equity, and we are not living in a sustainable manner,” the group’s president Nithi Nesadurai told MalaysiaNow.

He said consumers should be able to choose environmentally friendly products, and corporations should rightly “go green”, a tagline for embracing sustainable measures.

But he warned against embarking on such initiatives as a gimmick or in order to put up a front.

He said there are so-called “green” companies investing in unsustainable projects such as coal-fired power plants and land reclamation simply because they yield high returns.

For Nithi, this is simply “greenwash” – disinformation provided to present an environmentally responsible public image.

“Some major companies host sustainability summits while supporting unsustainable activities,” he said.

“We in Malaysia are already consuming the resources of 2.2 planets without adjusting for equity.”

He said there are many i’s to be dotted and t’s to be crossed before companies can be certified as sustainable.

“Plantation companies that wish to have RSPO certification have to meet sustainability standards,” Nithi said, referring to the Zurich-based Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, the secretariat of which is located in Kuala Lumpur.

There is also the green building index (GBI), which provides a green standard for developers.

But even here, it is not simply a matter of constructing a building that it is green. It is also about whether that building is necessary to begin with.

Developers, for example, have been building tens of thousands of buildings which nobody needs.

“A sustainable decision would have been not to build these buildings,” Nithi said, criticising the “chronic overhang” of commercial and residential buildings.

Carrot and stick

Former Malaysia Green Building Council president Von Kok Leong said in Malaysia, it is not that difficult for companies to go green.

He said there is “sufficient carrot and very little stick” as policymakers try to encourage the practice with incentive schemes to boost investments as well as improvements in quality and productivity.

At the corporate level, though, becoming sustainable is still a voluntary act.

“There is no Planet B.”

“But larger companies are beginning to see the opportunities that it brings to enlarge their market share, improve governance, and reduce energy costs,” Von said.

He said some companies had taken bold moves such as upgrading their industrial processes to become more energy-efficient, shifting to premises that have achieved a GBI rating, and recycling both water and waste.

“Many more have embarked on repackaging their image, to be seen as keeping abreast with the times.

“These are efforts that come from the heart, and from the top to the bottom of the hierarchy.”

However, others see going green as a mere buzzword and cannot envision how they or their products or services can fit in.

The good news, though, is that consumers themselves can effect some measure of change that will also bring benefit to them.

“The people can demand energy-saving electrical goods, products that do not harm the environment, better corporate governance and responsibility, and harsher punishments for those who destroy the environment,” Von said.

There is still a long road ahead, but Von sees it as a continuing conversation among stakeholders.

“Many have started to realise that we breathe the same air, drink from similar water sources, and deserve to have access to clean energy.”

Nithi agrees. “Companies have to act,” he told MalaysiaNow. “There is no Planet B.”

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