'Green hypocrisy' reported amongst most global businesses, poll finds

The corporate world is paying close attention to the increasingly severe impacts from climate change and executives are ready to make big moves to reduce their risk, but several barriers are holding them back.

From tree-planting to biodegradable packaging to carbon offsets — companies are making bolder actions and louder campaigns to let consumers know that they care about the planet.

However, a survey conducted by The Harris Poll for Google Cloud reveals company executives feel that “real measures of impact are lacking” and there are numerous roadblocks on the path to achieving a business that is truly sustainable.

The survey polled over 1,400 global executives across 16 markets from December 21, 2021 to January 8, 2022. All of the respondents held C-Suite or VP level positions and the surveyed markets included finance, technology, entertainment, media, health care, manufacturing, and supply chain logistics.

Opinion about the state of the climate was largely in agreement across the board — 89 per cent of company leaders agreed with the statement, “I realized I care more about sustainability than before,” in the past 12 months.

“For Canadian companies in particular, 59 per cent had sustainability as the top organizational priority,” Chris Talbott, cloud sustainability lead at Google Cloud, told The Weather Network.

“Almost every single industry faces climate change risks and challenges associated with their business, and they need to adapt their business models in order to become more resilient. We also have seen that consumer preferences, investor preferences, and regulatory pressure are moving organizations to accelerate their sustainability efforts.”

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Clean energy in Bogota (Apple - press release)

Apple partnered with Conservation International, INVEMAR Marine and Coastal Research Institute, and CVS (Corporación Autónoma Regional de los Valles del Sinú y del San George) to protect and restore the 27,000-acre mangrove forests in Córdoba, Colombia, improving coastal community resilience, engaging local groups in restoration, and protecting livelihoods. (Apple)

Despite the challenges that come with transitioning to environmentally-friendly business practices, Talbott says that 64 per cent of executives would be willing to make sustainable change, even if it meant lower revenue in the immediate future.

Although executives are highly interested in investing in sustainability efforts to grow their company and address climate change, they are struggling to authentically achieve these goals.

“Green hypocrisy exists — my organization has overstated their sustainability efforts,” agreed 58 per cent of the respondents. Amongst just the North American respondents, this sentiment jumped to a startling 72 per cent.

Other poll results indicate that the majority of companies are not even tracking or monitoring their progress. Roughly one third of the organizations polled reported have measurement tools to quantify their sustainability efforts, and only 17 per cent are using those measurements to optimize their efforts and operations.

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Companies are paying close attention to climate change impacts and are investing in strategies to minimize their risk. (Westend61/ Getty Images)

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“There is a sense of greenwashing or green hypocrisy. It's likely driven by the fact that they're struggling to get really accurate measurements and the impact of some of the decisions that they're making when it comes to sustainability. I also think that organizations and industries are challenged by the fact that the goalposts associated with sustainability are constantly moving,” Talbott explained.

Eco-friendly practices such as packaging with minimal plastic materials and emissions-free transport vehicles were once innovative practices but are now a standard that consumers are expecting, particularly amongst the Millenial and Gen Z demographics. Policies that regulate the environmental impacts of certain industries are continuously updated, which can impact anything from how a house is built to how many electric cars a brand manufactures.

Greenwashing, which occurs when a company makes itself seem more environmentally-friendly than it actually is, also hinders sustainable progress across sectors. High profile cases, such as BP renaming to Beyond Petroleum in 2001 before selling off renewable energy assets and eventually stepping away from the re-brand, indicate how easy it is for businesses to make inflated claims about their environmental commitments.

The poll respondents stated that the top barriers to achieving true sustainability are a lack of investment in the right technology, lack of understanding/education, relentless focus on growth/profit, lack of budget/cost, and lack of regulatory incentives.

Google Cloud says that having accurate data to track is necessary for companies to set sustainable benchmarks and quantitatively monitor how they are moving towards their goals. The company operates the cleanest cloud in the industry, which allows their users to decarbonize their digital services.

“By using better data about the natural environment, powerful analytics tools, and models to better make sense of that data, we can help customers understand their climate risk, and become more climate resilient. And that starts with putting that data in the hands of decision makers to ultimately make a decision that would help their operations become more climate resilient,” Talbott said.

Thumbnail credit: Morsa Images/ DigitalVision/ Getty Images