ESG and the resulting greenwashing

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ESG and the resulting greenwashing

The author is a social policy team reporter of the JoongAng Ilbo.

In 2018, a major cafe franchise took the initiative to replace plastic straws with paper ones. The experiment of choosing sustainability over convenience was four years ahead of the policy banning plastic straws in cafes, to be implemented in November. Other companies are following. They are quickly joining the global trend of environment, social and governance (ESG) management.

In contrast, the reusable cup promotion event by the same company didn’t feel right. Contrary to the intent to encourage reusing, customers flocked to the cafes to get limited-edition cups and mass-produced “pretty trash.” Environmental groups criticized that the plastic cup was “greenwashing” customers.

In the age of this climate crisis, paper straws and reusable cups illustrate the irony of eco-friendliness. Companies constantly advocate ESG management and eco-friendly achievements. For instance, the petrochemical industry, which is inseparable from fossil fuels, also has turned to perishable plastics such as biodegradable resins. In the heated competition to get “more eco-friendly,” concerns about greenwashing are also growing.

There is a thin line between ESG and greenwashing. The coffee franchise was attacked for its reusable cup marketing, but it is hard to find another company as eager to oust disposable cups. There are many products that look eco-friendly from the packaging but actually hurt the environment.

But when similar slogans overflow, people get confused. When people are disappointed with greenwashing, companies with excellent ESG standards will also suffer. That’s why real and fake eco-friendliness need to be distinguished and regulated.

The environmental friendliness debate is not exclusive to businesses. The incoming administration is to announce administrative goals and tasks for the next five years. Aside from ending a nuclear phase-out, however, no environment-related policies have been presented. The transition committee is emphasizing expanding both renewable energy and nuclear power plants, but environmental groups ask him to not greenwash coal-powered power generation.

Over the last five years, the Moon Jae-in administration has made a strong carbon-neutral drive. Now the Yoon administration is to present its green management plan to the 50 million consumers. It is unclear what kind of performance report Yoon will get in 2027, but one thing is certain. The new leader has to take responsibility.
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