2022 podcast Season 1: Insights on navigating Climate Claims

From the newsroom to the boardroom to the policy office, everyone is talking about Net Zero. But what does it mean for business, people or politics? How do we move from words to action and, most importantly, how can we trust we do it right?

In 2022 we launched “How to Net Zero”, a podcast which brings together industry experts and climate frontrunners  to explore the challenges we face in implementing plans to achieve Net Zero. In this first season we explored with leading experts a common theme: exactly how do we make sure climate claims are credible? Put simply, we discussed how to trust the claims being made by brands, and what makes some claims more trustworthy than others.

Here is what we learned in this first season of How to Net Zero

Greenwashing is an issue, but it’s not our biggest one yet.

Net Zero, carbon neutral, climate positive. It is safe to say that understanding the defining factors of Net Zero and other climate claims is complex – and perhaps a reason for the growing issue of greenwashing. For Edward Hanrahan, Director at Climate Impact Partners, the numerous types of climate claims we see today came because of some form of third-parties trying to differentiate their offerings. It may have been done with the best of intention or purely as a commercial differentiator, but it added to the confusion in both cases. The problem is that greenwashing takes root in companies making inaccurate, incomplete, and sometimes misleading claims. Ed explained that quite often, making the wrong claims is not intentionally malicious. Claims are often overenthusiastic and inaccurate because these are put in place by marketing departments or advertising agencies who don’t have a strong understanding of the concepts or underlying realities of what’s happening on the ground.

“Taking 100% responsibility for what you emit in pursuit of profit does not make you a climate hero, it just makes you a good corporate citizen.”

Edward Hanrahan, Director, Climate Impact Partners

In our episode on navigating climate claims, Ed pointed out that while greenwashing is an issue that needs attention, we should be more concerned with the companies who still don’t have a Net Zero target: “We absolutely need to worry about greenwashing, but what I am really concerned about is the 62% of fortune 500 companies that still don’t have Net Zero targets in place and seem to carry on without addressing climate issues whatsoever. We roll our eyes on overclaiming, but the real question is: how do we get that 62% to start taking action”.

Net Zero commitments are worth celebrating but they are just the first step.

As a concept, Net Zero is pretty clear. We need to continue to coexist with our planet without adding carbon to the atmosphere. For companies, the key question then becomes: How can I continue to create value to society and to investors without adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. While the destination is clear, the transformation needed to get there is a challenge. Add carbon accounting into the mix and it becomes a very complex journey.

The nuance we need to bring to the narrative – and that may be missing sometimes – is that, on its own, a commitment is completely insufficient

Alberto Carillo, Chief Technical Officer, Science Based Targets initiative

In our second episode, Alberto Carillo, Chief Technical Officer at the Science-based Targets Initiative (SBTi), explained that, for Net Zero to remain a relevant concept, companies need to first understand that it means a decarbonized business. It is important that we celebrate and continue to acknowledge those who make a Net Zero commitment – after all, most economic actors have not even done so – but we cannot stop there. “The nuance we need to bring to the narrative – and that may be missing sometimes – is that, on its own, a commitment is completely insufficient. It should only be celebrated as a first step, and to be meaningful, it needs to be followed with setting science-based targets and having a transition plan”. Monitoring and providing evidence of progress is the next most important step. To hold companies accountable, Alberto highlighted the need for a monitoring, reporting and verification standards that clearly sets what companies are expected to report on, how they are expected to do it and how progress against targets will be assessed.

Regulations might just be the solution we are looking for.

In our third episode, Gilles Dufrasne, Policy Officer at Carbon Market Watch, argued that most of the claims being made today, carbon neutrality claims in particular, are not respecting basic principles such as following the mitigation hierarchy, setting credible targets (incl. mid-term targets) or having a transition plan. “If you are a truly ambitious company, I don’t see why you would advertise yourself as climate neutral. You are just putting yourself on the same footing as major polluters who are making that exact same claim”. Ultimately, regulation is about setting the key principles and guardrails for companies to promote their climate action in a way that is not misleading, “and I think this is why it is in the interest of truly ambitious company to lobby for strict and ambitious regulations”.

"Misleading claims are problematic because they send the wrong message. They lead consumers, investors and governments to believe the job is done and take away the incentive to change behaviors and take further action, that’s why they should be regulated"

Gilles Dufrasne, Policy Officer, Carbon Market Watch

The argument that regulation can provide more consistency through a shared framework was also made by Mardi McBrien, Director of Strategic Affairs at the IFRS Foundation: “We need to make sure stakeholders, in our case businesses from different countries around the world, speak the same sustainability language. That’s why we believe in the standard-setting process and are working hard at it”.

Greenwashing exists precisely because we don’t yet have the same definitions, the same approaches and methodologies. International standards can help enhance the quality and comparability of information. “If we can keep our foot on the accelerator then I think, for climate, we have a pretty good global standard in place that everyone could start reporting against within the next two years”.  

Listen Now

Season 1 of ‘How to Net Zero’ is available on Apple podcast and Spotify. We look forward to continuing the discussion during Season 2 which will launch in March 2023.

Listen to the full conversations on Navigating Climate Claims with all of our guests now on Apple podcast and Spotify.

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