Aug 19, 2021

UK Government to tackle greenwashing

With environmental and sustainability requirements becoming more prevalent across a variety of sectors, UK Government has established a new independent expert group to advise on standards for green investment.

The Green Technical Advisory Group (GTAG), made up from a group of financial and business stakeholders, taxonomy and data experts, subject matter experts drawn from academia, NGOs, the Environment Agency, and the Committee on Climate Change, will develop a framework defining what truly is an environmentally sustainable investment. Decisions made now will impact the long-term sustainability of our people and planet; this new group will facilitate more informed investment choices through the development of a “Green Taxonomy”.

With more societal and governance pressures to transition to a ‘green’ organisation, the lack of true definition has seen unsubstantiated claims around environmental performance. Greenwashing, where an organisation may disinform or mislead consumers to promote an environmentally responsible image, is becoming an increasing issue with some high-profile cases in recent years. Oxfam’s ‘Tightening the Net’ report has highlighted a considerable greenwashing issue arising from vague net zero definitions and a lack of metric targets. A dependency on ‘net zero’ rather than ‘zero emissions’ is suggested to lead to significant greenwashing and may delay emissions reductions. It means that corporations are continuing business-as-usual whilst placing a substantial reliance on emissions removal to reach net zero. Oxfam claims these “unproven new technologies and land-based carbon capture are unable to deliver at a scale needed”. It is recommended that “transparent targets that distinguish between reducing and removing carbon” are necessary.

The new group will support Government efforts to “boost investments in projects that accelerate the transition to a sustainable economy, create green jobs and support the UK’s environmental goals,” [1] whilst tackling greenwashing. The UK’s Version of a Green Taxonomy is likely to have similar considerations to the EU’s Green taxonomy – an organisation’s economic activity must contribute to one of the following environmental objectives and not undermine any other objectives:

  • Climate change mitigation: the impact of an organisation on the environment
  • Climate change adaptation: the impact of the environment on the organisation
  • Use and protection of water and marine resources
  • Transition towards a circular economy
  • Pollution prevention and control
  • Protection and restoration of biodiversity and ecosystems

The question is, how do you measure this contribution?

What is critical is identifying the need for appropriate data and metrics. Without them, greenwashing potential is likely to be accelerated. A key aim of the group is “to deal with and manage any data gaps” [2]. Developing a common and defined set of measures, to allow comparison and assessment of environmental credentials, is necessary. A quantitative metrics-based approach will allow any environmental claims to be backed-up with data. The addition of an independent verification process will also ensure completeness and accuracy of the process. It is unclear what these deliverable and clearly defined metrics will be, but it is likely they will incorporate similar themes to those described above.

As the UK Government recently announced committing to mandatory climate financial disclosures across the economy by 2025 (see TCFD), it is probable that the GTAG will support the UK’s lead in climate commitments. It is hoped that this group, along with subsidiary working groups, will provide advice on key technologies and policy directions on the path to net zero. Having a clear direction for investment is likely to be beneficial to many organisations.

It will be crucial that data and metrics support this Green Taxonomy development. A standardised approach, with reliable data through verification, will allow for ‘green claim’ accountability across all organisations. At SHIFT, we take a science-based metrics approach in our SHIFT environmental assessments. We find this the best way to measure our clients’ environmental impact, allowing for benchmarking and the development of an action plan for improvement. For more information see our SHIFT services or contact us.

 

[1] New independent group to tackle greenwashing

[2] GTAG

[3] Oxfam: Tightening the net. Net zero climate targets – implications for land and food equity

[4] Image: TengyArt