Laundromat’s New Year Wish: Accountability

    Stockholm (NordSIP) – NordSIP’s Laundromat began its weekly examination of various aspects of greenwashing earlier this year.  Rather than list our Top 20 Greenwashers of 2022, perhaps it would be worth looking at a common thread in many of these cases that we would like to see eradicated in 2023.  The United Nations High Level Expert Group (HLEG) tasked with scrutinising the net-zero commitments of non-state entities highlighted the problem in recommendation #8 of their November 2022 report “Integrity Matters.”  The recommendation calls for proper transparency and accountability.

    Sustainability involves much more than reporting

    The Laundromat has found many cases of large blue chip multinational corporations listing a host of sustainability commitments and credentials, while seemingly doing extremely little to improve the sustainability of their value chains.  The first part of the UN HLEG’s recommendation is relatively easy for large companies to satisfy.  They report on their carbon emissions, their recycling rates or use of virgin plastic in packaging.  Where this system falls down is that companies appear to be gaining ESG credentials simply for signing up and reporting to various non-governmental organisations (NGOs) or industry initiatives.  Moreover, there is bound to be a size bias in that small to medium enterprises will have fewer resources to dedicate to sustainability reporting.  Similarly, non-profit NGOs cannot be expected to police the hundreds of corporations that sign up to their initiatives.

    Should companies be expelled from sustainability initiatives?

    This year we looked at the Kellogg Company, which produces the ubiquitous “recyclable” – but hardly ever recycled – Pringles tubes by the hundreds of millions each year.  The company’s 2022 Global Commitment progress report to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation makes dismal reading, and simply shows four years’ worth of inaction and neglect.  Kellogg uses its connection with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation as a sustainability credential on its corporate website.  This is where the second part of the HLEG’s recommendation #8 should kick in: accountability.  There is a strong argument for companies like this to be thrown out of sustainability initiatives if they show no signs of action.  We are not singling Kellogg out in this respect, as they are in good company.  For instance, one major sponsor of this year’s COP27 was another major polluter literally and figuratively kicking the can down the road while making all the right sustainability “noises.”

    2023: the death of greenwashing?

    Enough of the smoke and mirrors.  Let us wish for a 2023 characterised by much greater scrutiny and demands for accountability on polluting firms.  Shareholders must not satisfy themselves that public sustainability commitments and target-setting amount to anything more than greenwashing without clear and independent verification of effective action being taken to improve value chains.


    Image courtesy of Mikes Photography from Pixabay
    Richard Tyszkiewicz
    Richard Tyszkiewicz
    Richard has over 30 years’ experience in the international investment industry. He has worked closely with major Nordic investors on consultancy projects, focusing on the evaluation of external asset managers. While doing so, Richard built up a strong practical understanding of the challenges faced by institutional investors seeking to integrate ESG into their portfolios. Richard has an MA degree in Management and Spanish from St Andrews University, and sustainability qualifications from Cambridge University, PRI and the CFA Institute.

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