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ESG without the greenwashing - A guide to being an authentic ESG business

View profile for Andrew Ashley-Edwards
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Any responsible business will have recognised and accepted the need for businesses and individuals alike to take positive action to improve sustainability and cut carbon emissions.

With a commitment by the UK Government to reaching net zero by 2050 there is a direct focus on businesses of all sizes to reduce emissions.  The subtle difference between ‘carbon neutral’ and ‘net zero’ may also lead to confusion because, whilst a business may be carbon neutral when taking into account offsetting – tree planting for example, to achieve net zero an actual reduction of carbon emissions is required.

The approach of businesses to achieving this will vary as no two businesses are alike.  What might be necessary from a solicitors’ firm or accountants’ practice will differ significantly from a food manufacturer or energy supplier.

The key for any business is to identify what their carbon emissions are, make a plan for how improvements can be made in each area and then to implement that plan.

For those businesses already reacting to the climate threat, it is understandable they would wish to share their progress and successes.  Care should be exhibited however not to inflate claims of carbon reduction or misstate the environmental impact of the businesses products or operations.  There have been high profile examples of greenwashing with banks funding fossil fuels despite net zero pledges, sustainable products packaged in single use plastic and exaggeration of green activities by fuel giants.  Such claims lead to mistrust in companies and has a negative impact on the overall goal of making positive changes for the benefit of the planet.

Getting smaller businesses ‘on board’ with climate goals is already challenging but is made more difficult when scepticism increases due to dishonest reporting by corporate giants.

It is exciting to see the results of varying initiatives when reported accurately.  Real results are measurable and should be shared as they can encourage a wider array of businesses to up their game when it comes to carbon reduction.  So, whether it is solar panels on your office roof, insulation in roof voids, paperless working or renewable energy providers, keep sharing those impressive results but keep one eye on the accuracy of those claims to avoid being branded as the greenwashing firm!

Reputation and brand value is vital for law firms as each firm tries to differentiate itself from its competitors.  ESG can be an opportunity for firms to demonstrate they exist not solely for the financial benefit of their owners but also for the wider good of the people within that business and the wider community.  By instilling a new value system into the fabric of the firm there is an opportunity to show current and potential clients that a law firm can have a wider positive impact on the community. 

Carbon reduction is certainly not straightforward, it can only accurately be measured with input from your supply chain so it becomes key to ensure you are working with like minded businesses with similar values.  Every small change in the right direction (many at very little cost) can benefit your business and the planet more widely.  Positive changes, however small, support your brand values and enable you to display the real heart of your firm to the outside world.