Firstly I wish to congratulate the UAE division of the World Wildlife Fund(EWS-WWF) and all the individuals and companies who participated in the 2012 celebration and awareness campaigns. Like with all well-run activities, observers perhaps don’t see the extreme hard work that goes in behind the scenes, and everyone involved deserves full recognition.
The question now is – so what happens next?
Companies that participated and publicised their involvement this year must be prepared that consumers and other stakeholders will be looking for an obvious change in business practices. They are not satisfied with one hour of good-intentions per year.
It would show great impact that, if beyond the light ceremonies, the companies that have led the initiative for the past three or more years use this as an opportunity to report on the real progress they have made towards sustainability. Potentially using international standards such as the Global Reporting Initiative.
Many UAE companies, including several that are supporting Earth Hour, are already progressing down the path to sustainability reporting and have made public reports in recent years.
Abraaj Capital, ADNOC, Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority, Department of Transport Abu Dhabi, Abu Dhabi Department of Economic Development, National Bank of Abu Dhabi, Aldar, Dubai Customs, Dolphin Energy, the Emirates Foundation, Jumeirah Group + many, many more have all published reports and progress on the official disclosure database. They should be recognized, applauded and respected as leaders in this matter.
‘Greenwashing’ however, is a real risk for corporate reputation and also the the cause itself. “Making false or over-the-top claims only strengthens media suspicions about eco-claims, which in turn damages efforts to improve the environment,” says the Chartered Institute for Public Relations.
“It is a term often used when describing environmental sustainability communications that are false or misleading, generally when significantly more money or time has been spent promoting being green, rather than spending resources on environmentally sound practices.”
So if companies wish to promote themselves as being green, well… effectively they should stop right there. The first step is for their management to appreciate and place ‘sustainability’ or simply the environment as a business agenda and deploy resources aimed at finding ways to make a difference.
They should also adopt internationally recognized standards for measuring the results, which may be audited and presented at an appropriate event. As mentioned earlier, GRI is possibly the most popular of these tools.
Greenwashing goes against MEPRA’s Code of Conduct which obliges Members to “be honest and accurate in all communications.” It also falls under the need to “conduct its professional activities with proper regard for the public interest”.
In 2013, RAGs and Consultants that represent companies that are not committed to GRI or a similarly respected international standard should consider if there is ground to “decline representation of clients or organizations that urge or require actions contrary to this code”.
Finally, I just again want to congratulate everyone who took part, and I truly believe that this is a very successful and important annual initiative that all should treasure and support.
See the CIPR’s full guidelines on sustainability communications here: http://bit.ly/HyMRGM.
I attach the GRI’s recently launched supplement for Event Management, which was developed with the London Olympics Committee and other respected organisations which might also be useful and of interest.