Apr 13, 2022 - Energy & Environment

Global executives suspect their own companies of "greenwashing"

Illustration of a green smoke stack over a blue sky, with smoke coming out and the sky transitioning to grey.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

New polling results from The Harris Poll taken for Google Cloud, and shared first with Axios, show that senior executives at large companies around the world are prioritizing sustainability goals and feel confident in their company's progress.

Yes, but: However, many of these same corporate leaders say that "green hypocrisy exists" and that their own company has overstated its sustainability progress.

Zoom in: The polling, conducted on 1,491 C-suite or VP-level executives across 16 markets and multiple industries, found that senior leaders face barriers to making progress on sustainability, especially difficulties in measuring and verifying progress.

Why it matters: How and whether large companies meet their greenhouse gas emissions targets will help determine the fate of the Paris Agreement's temperature targets.

  • 80% of executives polled rated their company above average for their sustainability work, particularly in the financial services and tech sectors.
  • Just 36% of respondents said their organizations have measurement tools in place that allow them to track their progress in detail.
  • 58% of respondents said their organization is guilty of greenwashing. This finding was especially high in North America, where 72% of respondents said their organization has done this.
  • Executives prioritize sustainability work as highly as more traditional tasks, such as research and development.
  • The poll shows executives put their faith in technological innovation, including computing and satellite data, to help advance sustainable solutions.

What they're saying: "The answer will come from putting better data in the hands of decision makers," said Justin Keeble, managing director of Global Sustainability at Google Cloud, in an interview.

  • "I think the problem is, as expectations have increased, that hasn't necessarily been commensurate with the tools that companies need to be able to measure and disclose performance," he said.

Context: New companies are forming to help firms take account of their greenhouse gas emissions footprint and determine the best opportunities to reduce it.

  • Venture capitalists have been investing increasing sums in such efforts, including last week's announcement of $73 million raised in a Series B round for Sweep, which makes emissions tracking software.
  • Other companies in this space include Supercritical, Cleartrace and Patch.

Meanwhile... Google is seeking to be the company that these new upstarts, among many others, partner with to host their data and provide them with tools to accomplish their sustainability goals, Keeble said.

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