While the panel focused extensively on the origins of greenwashing and prevention methods, the discussion also revealed just how challenging and complex the sustainability topic as a whole is proving for companies. With a slew of green legislation on the horizon, especially in the EU, organisations will be forced to implement ESG frameworks and reporting mechanisms to avoid possible sanctions in the years ahead.
Ursula also called attention to the urgency of the fight against climate change, claiming a step-by-step approach from companies is no longer good enough. She used the Consumer Goods Forum where 400 businesses are members (including Rewe, Mondelēz and Nestlé) as an example that planned to be deforestation free by 2020, a goal they failed to reach. For her, the time for slow organisational changes and voluntary initiatives is over.
On the other hand, rapid change may result in an elevated risk of greenwashing as companies exaggerate their environmental credentials to get ahead. In order to prevent greenwashing and ensure their sustainability efforts are accepted as genuine, organisations can take a number of mitigation steps such as developing the right corporate culture, embracing initiatives such as the UN SDGs and underscoring green processes with a strong tone from the top. Employees should also be provided with effective speak-up mechanisms to call out greenwashing while a strong emphasis should be placed on verification through auditing and international certification standards.