As promised, Greenwasher highlights a few companies that could do better – in some cases a lot better – on sustainability

Following on from last month’s review of Greenwasher’s current favourite companies, it’s time for those that have some work to do. So, in no particular order, and purely subjectively, here are some examples of how not to quite get responsible business.

Tesco: supplier squeeze

Tesco deserves considerable praise on sustainability. New stores are eco-friendly, it is ahead of the curve with some Chinese outlets, and is making an admirable contribution to sustainable consumption research with a large donation to Manchester University.

Yet Greenwasher would argue that the company’s stakeholder outreach is still a little weak. And a dogmatic focus on product carbon labelling does not appear particularly well thought through.

Most importantly, Tesco has had a chance to lead its industry on supplier payment terms, but these have lagged 30-day best practice for years. Many non-food suppliers get paid on 60-day payment terms. Not up to scratch.

Nestlé: not enough fair trade

By the standards of the past, Nestlé has made big strides in recent years. Good work on water, nutrition and rural development has been done. But Nestlé’s stakeholder advisers and commentators remain too friendly towards the company when a more critical view is required.

Crucially, the company lags competitors by still only having just two Fairtrade-certified brands, Partner’s Blend in the UK and Zoegas in Sweden. It is time for the company to realise that working with credible sustainability certification, across much more of its supply chain, is the way to go.

Super major oil companies: what about the future?

It’s obvious to almost anyone working in sustainability that the big oil firms – all of them – lack any kind of strategy for moving their business models towards a sustainable future.

While all the big oil and gas firms have made great strides on human rights in the past 10 years, particularly BP and Shell, their mindset remains firmly stuck in hydrocarbons and a belief that almost all governments will need them at some point. The lack of investment in renewable energy or failure to work meaningfully on carbon capture and storage is well known.

One former senior oil executive told Greenwasher recently that the super major oil and gas firms just don’t quite grasp how to manage big investments in areas outside their normal carbon-intensive sphere. Hence the recent pullbacks by Shell and BP, and in the past, Exxon.

Clearly better management expertise will be needed in these firms for them to find their way in lower-carbon products and services.

Barclays: a human resources problem

Barclays has done excellent things on issues such as financial inclusion, diversity and – to a degree – climate change, in recent years.

But Barclays – not alone among the banks, it must be said – lacks a strategy director on sustainability in the business who understands both finance and the social and environmental agenda.

A missed opportunity so far. Chief executive John Varley clearly needs some help, as evidenced by his quote in Barclays’ recent and rather poor sustainability report: “At a time when it has never been more important for banks to focus on the things that support their sustainability agenda, we have never faced so many distractions from doing so.”

Not exactly reassuring, as we noted in our June edition.

Nobu and Mitsubishi: something’s fishy

Fashionable London restaurant Nobu still refuses to remove bluefin tuna from its menu, despite the fish being an endangered species. Celebrities are lining up to boycott the restaurant, while right-wing newspaper columnists lambast them for attempting to restrict our right to eat dying breeds.

Mitsubishi, which controls about 35% of the global trade in bluefin, according to Greenwasher’s NGO sources and UK newspapers, is determined to stay in the business, saying: “Mitsubishi believes that it can best contribute to the sustainability of bluefin tuna by remaining in the business for now.” Hmmm.

Asia Pulp & Paper: chopping down credibility

Finally, the Greenwasher mid-year award for the worst idea this year so far must to go Asia Pulp & Paper, a firm that apparently still believes it operates in the 19th century.

Its latest humdinger of a profit-generating idea is to fell 50,000 hectares of unprotected lowland forest on the island of Sumatra in Indonesia. The destruction of Indonesian rainforests alone accounts for about 4% of all non-natural greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.

About half of Sumatra’s natural forests have been cleared in the past two decades. Asia Pulp & Paper, a bête-noire among conservation NGOs, even claims to have a sustainability strategy. Just not where the company operates, clearly.

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