Taking sustainability seriously: how common is ‘greenwashing’ and what can we do?

Jul 21, 2023Webinars and Blogs

It is good business to be seen to be supporting the ‘green agenda’, and certainly bad news follows or is likely to follow an organisation that is not committed. But how would we know? Do security professionals really care and if so how is that reflected? The ‘environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG)’ concept is becoming more renowned but in what ways is it different and what are the barriers to embedding it in security practice? For example, what does the ‘social’ part of ESG refer to? This webinar will discuss: The extent and nature of ‘greenwashing’ The routes to developing meaningful measures of sustainability,

Chair: Dr Janice Goldstraw-White

Russel Kerr – Managing Director, SecuriGroup
Michael Gips – Principal, Global Insights in Professional Security (GIPS)

Key Points
Russel Kerr opens by saying that a key focus for his company currently is the environment, in particular how to reduce the impact of their business on it, as well as seeing how they can do more for the community that they service. This supports one of their key purposes, which is to strengthen society. He feels that the United Nations Climate Change Conference, more commonly referred to as COP26, was a real call to action and he wanted his business to be carbon neutral before then, so in the year leading up to the conference they made some fundamental changes. He outlines how they have transferred their energy across all their estate to renewable sources, replaced lighting and heating with energy efficient systems, get their cloud-computing infrastructure and website hosting via green-certified providers, have developed an app to ensure they are as paperless as possible, and are currently transitioning their vehicle fleet to electrical-hybrid by 2025. He states that they have invested heavily in UN carbon credits but they don’t want to be reliant on these for the foreseeable future and are therefore continually looking to further reduce their carbon emissions, which they have done every year since becoming carbon neutral. Russel points out how they wanted to take some direct action as well, so they planted their own woodland of over 2,000 indigenous species, and this scheme has now been credited by the Woodland Carbon Code and they use those credits to directly offset some of their activities. This initiative is one he says he feels most proud of because it is something tangible that people can visit and watch grow. He concludes by stating that although he feels they have made substantial progress, he is frustrated by how they compete with other businesses, and differentiate themselves, and how they prove their green credentials. 

You will hear Michael Gipps state that in the US the implementation of environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues  is spotty at best. He states that his main issue with ESG, is it is simply too big and all encompassing, consisting of initiatives which are on their own are extremely important, let alone when grouped together. He reminds us what each of the categories includes, stating that environment covers issues such as climate change, carbon footprint, air and water pollution, pollution of natural resources, energy use and waste management etc. That social includes diversity, equity and inclusion (EDI) (that itself he notes is a huge area of concern on its own), health and safety, community relations, fair labour practices, human rights, living wage and customer satisfaction etc. Then he states that adding governance into the mix you are looking at internal leadership, board composition, duties, business integrity, data privacy and cybersecurity, risk management, bribery and corruption, whistleblowing, investigations and regulatory compliance. Therefore, he says as ESG appears to be a catch all for all these things you can’t possibly treat it holistically as no one does, or can own the whole thing, it is something owned by the corporate body. Michael believes that security is doing well in ESG especially, on the governance side, which he says is not surprising given that many issues included there are typical security and risk management functions, some of which are mandated by law. But he feels for environment and social issues, that security is not making such good progress, and where they are successes, he believes these are purely situational. In conclusion, Michael points out two things, first that the security sector has very few large corporations in the market and consists of many small businesses who are not sure what visible contribution they can give to the ESG agenda, or feel that they are not being watched anyway, Secondly, he thinks that a segment of the US population decries ESG as part of the “woke agenda” and it is certainly not seen as an unqualified good and therefore, he believes some of these are issues that are hampering progress of ESG today.

This webinar has highlighted the current issues in the important, but diverse world of ESG (Environment, Social and Governance) and how the security sector are tackling these. Because many  people think of the environmental aspect of ESG first, and as the governance side is already quite well developed (not least because of a number of regulatory requirements), the social dimension appears to be the least developed element, certainly in the security industry, if not across other sectors too. Although there are many examples of good practices amongst organisations, there is also some evidence of ‘greenwashing’, or false or misleading information put out about how well organisations are doing on the ESG agenda, which sadly diverts attention away from those organisations who are making genuine progress. In terms of how these organisations can differentiate themselves, there are a number of credible frameworks out there which businesses can measure themselves against and produce meaningful metrics. But more can be done, not least training people in ESG terminology and making them more carbon aware, creating efficiencies in buildings, looking at the footprint in shipping products, and leveraging partnerships with other security organisations to see what more can be achieved. 

Dr Janice Goldstraw-White
20th July 2023

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