Greenwasher of the Year 2023

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    Let us rewind almost exactly 12 months to the last Laundromat of 2022, in which I expressed a wish for greater accountability in the New Year leading to the ultimate death of greenwashing.  This was borne out of a growing sense of frustration and incredulity at the ease with which governments and corporations were able to make grand statements on sustainability while continuing to trash the planet with impunity.  Hopes had already been raised by the presentation of a UN-led crackdown on spurious net-zero commitments by non-state actors at COP27.  However, the UN can only make recommendations, and this year’s Laundromats have featured a rogues gallery of oil industry greenwashers.

    2023 Greenwasher of the Year goes to the AEPW

    COP27 was itself sponsored by Coca Cola, the world’s worst plastic polluter in each of the five global brand audits carried out by the campaign group Break Free from Plastic (BFFP).  This year, many Laundromats have highlighted the plastics industry’s ingenious efforts to detract from credible upstream solutions and get everyone to focus purely on downstream waste management and recycling.  The Alliance to End Plastic Waste (AEPW) represents an absolute master class in greenwashing.  Compromising most of the biggest producers of virgin plastics, the AEPW specialises in presenting its waste reduction activities entirely without context.  For instance, a very quick calculation revealed that the headline waste reduction figure in its 2022 progress report represented 0.0027% of the total plastic waste produced in the period concerned.  Unfortunately, no matter how loudly the Laundromat shouts it cannot realistically prevent the greenwashing juggernaut that is the AEPW getting away with such blatant misrepresentation.

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    Laundromat tries a Happy Pill

    Come on Laundromat, in the words of Chaka Khan: “Tell me something good.”  On a more positive note, while the fossil industry sees plastic production as a useful counterpoint to its threatened fuel revenues, the net may slowly be closing.  Negotiations have begun on a new global plastics treaty, agreed in principle by 175 nations for implementation sometime in 2024.  Despite a frustrating and controversial start with the intervention of industry lobbyists echoing the trend at climate talks, the issue of plastic pollution has risen up the sustainability agenda and is increasingly being seen as a fundamental component of the fight against the climate crisis.  Some of the major producers of single-use plastic products such as PepsiCo and Danone have also been sued by local government authorities and environmental groups.

    Good things are also happening with the mobilisation of green capital resulting from the US’s Inflation Reduction Act and the European Union’s (EU) Green Deal initiative.  COP28 recently called for a tripling of renewable energy capacity, with the cost of wind and solar energy continuing to fall.  Biodiversity loss and the restoration and protection of ecosystems has also been taking its rightful place in the mainstream of sustainability investment.  This requires an enormous effort on the part of asset owners and the investment industry to incorporate a vast range of new metrics.  The EU has been leading the way with a strict deforestation regulation preventing the importation of harmful products and, to a lesser degree a new Nature Restoration law.  The latter was a battleground for conflicting interests, with right-wing political parties seeking to dilute its content.  The slowdown in deforestation rates in the Amazon is also good news, but also a reminder of sustainability’s fragile dependence on favourable politicians.

    How many more COPs will it take?

    It is important to highlight the positives where possible.  The Laundromat is constantly impressed by the hard work of various non-governmental groups (NGOs) to uncover the negative lobbying and greenwashing of governments and corporations.  However, the urgency of the climate crisis has been emphatically brought home once again by the UN’s 2023 Production Gap report, the COP28 global stocktake and the fact that we have burst through six out of nine planetary boundaries.  This is why the Laundromat last week chose to focus on the fossil producers post-COP28 glee rather than highlight the hard work of the good guys.  When the Saudi energy minister still believes that they are under no obligation to reduce oil and gas output after almost 30 years of climate negotiations, it is a stark reminder that there remains a long and hard road ahead.

    All Laundromats since August 2022’s Pringles attack are available on the NordSIP website here.

    Image courtesy of Mirko Fabian 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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