Multinational companies need to buck up on green initiatives

04 Jul 2019 / 18:43 H.

LAST week I attended a Climate Change Forum organised by the Centre for Development, Technology and Environment (CETDEM) with the theme “The role of businesses and industries in addressing climate change”. You know what? Gurmit Singh, as chairman of CETDEM lamented that although invitations were sent to conglomerates and multinational companies based in Malaysia to showcase their climate change initiatives (CCI) none of them took the offer. I felt concerned and disturbed. Here was a golden opportunity for companies to “show off” their achievements and what they have done and are doing to address climate change issues and yet none were willing to come forward to do so. It can mean only one thing.

The board or top management of companies seem to give CCI very low priority; hence very little or nothing at all has been done. Of course they don’t want to make a fool of themselves at the forum.

The deafening silence from these MNCs is pathetic especially those companies that are heavily polluting the environment for instance the transport companies (land, air and sea) and energy-related ones. On one hand these companies in a rhetorical way shout out loud the importance of going green in their daily operations but when it comes to devoting enough resources to do so, there is a major unwillingness to do so as it will inevitably affect their bottom line.

In a nutshell, many companies treat CCI merely from a narrow corporate social responsibility (CSR) perspective.

Hence we can literally count the number of companies with a climate change blueprint or with a full-fledged Climate Change Division manned by full-time officers.

To be fair, some companies such as Malaysia Airlines are doing something. The airline is requesting its customers to take part in a carbon offsetting programme; passengers on a specific flight pay for the emissions emitted and this money will go to support projects that reduce greenhouse gases. Yes the company has indicated in general terms what it is doing in its operations to reduce emissions. Many of us wouldn’t mind paying a bit more to save the environment but the company needs to be more forthcoming in informing the public what specific initiatives it has implemented and more importantly the impact of these initiatives in terms of reduction in the quantum of emissions. And why aren’t their emission reduction figures been disclosed in their annual reports?

Even Bursa Malaysia’s intervention is not strong enough to influence companies to take the low emission green path. All companies are encouraged to disclose CCI information in their annual report but how many are doing so? Since it is not mandatory, companies often chose to ignore the request.

We also have to be careful of those companies who jump on the green bandwagon by practising greenwashing (the practice of making unsubstantiated or misleading claims about a company’s so-called green initiatives). The company will appear to be more environment-friendly than it really is. These companies are not only dishonest but overstate their green ways. A good example of greenwashing is Exxon Mobil; they had indicated that they were reducing their greenhouse gases when in fact, the emissions were actually increasing.

In our country’s transition to a low-carbon economy, companies too (aside from the government) must also play their part. It is time they walk the talk by taking concrete action now instead of waiting for legislation to be enacted for them to do so.

Until companies consider CCI as an integral part of their overall risk and management processes, it is unlikely that the country will be able to make noteworthy progress in tackling environmental degradation due to climate change.

Michael E. Porter puts it aptly “While many companies may still think of global warming as a corporate social responsibility issue, business leaders need to approach it in the same hard-headed manner as any other strategic threat or opportunity”.

Pola Singh

Kuala Lumpur

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