What is the greenwashing trick?
In the corporate sector, it has become fashionable to announce all kinds of climate targets and to make claims of climate neutrality. Yet, publicly available data on corporate emissions remains incomplete or is completely absent. Even when companies release their emissions data, it is often not comparable between companies or years, making it very difficult to track real progress. Companies can pick and choose what they decide to report, and more often than not, they decide not to disclose the vast majority of their emissions.
In the livestock sector, 90% of emissions come from the animals themselves. Emissions from these animals, which are counted as part of a company’s supply chain, are included in companies’ “Scope 3 emissions” – which most livestock companies do not report.
These companies also don’t publish other data necessary for the independent evaluation of their climate pledges, like the numbers of animals they process. Even the verification of publicly reported emissions is extremely difficult, because the process is based on self-reporting and inadequate fact checking by neutral third-parties. This makes it difficult to confirm whether companies are actually reducing their emissions as they claim to be.
How is this greenwashing trick used?
Announcements of climate targets and action plans serve as important public relations and greenwashing tools for corporations. These announcements are designed to show the public how a company is taking “serious” climate action, particularly as public awareness is increasing about Big Livestock’s enormous climate footprint.
But how can the public verify the credibility of these announcements? Currently, there is no public, transparent and independent system that requires companies to report or verify the vast majority of their emissions. Companies can claim whatever progress they want towards their climate targets, and even efforts to reach climate neutrality, even if that is not the case.
The most transparent register for corporate emissions reporting is an organisation called the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP). But the register is based on self-reporting with minimal verification. Moreover, 30% of the CDP’s income comes from the same companies it rates. Many companies fail to even minimally verify their reporting. In the absence of government rules to verify reported corporate emissions, corporations can easily doctor their numbers. For instance, corporations can report lower levels of emissions, report only the emissions of certain parts of their operations and inflate the effect their climate plans have on their emissions, and there is no authority to ground-truth these claims.
Why is this bad for the climate crisis?
Companies fight the need for government regulation by demonstrating that they take voluntary action to fight the climate crisis. Too often, though, corporate climate claims have been shown to be a scam.
The urgency of the climate crisis demands transparency and accuracy on a company’s full scale of emissions. We need consistent rules globally and nationally regarding corporate reporting and verification, so that we can track the climate impact of the worst polluters and hold them accountable to reduce their emissions. This is also important so that investors who say they are serious about climate change do not fund companies that continue to emit high levels of greenhouse gases. There is too much at stake to trust in companies who might – or might not – live up to their big climate promises.