68% of U.S. CEOs Say Their Companies Are Guilty of Greenwashing, Google Survey Finds

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CEOs know what greenwashing is, and, according to a new survey, the majority of them say their own companies have been guilty of it.

An anonymous Harris Poll for Google Cloud survey asked nearly 1,500 CEOs and C-suite leaders at companies with more than 500 employees about their role in addressing climate change. Specifically, the executives were asked about their sustainability commitments.

“Climate-induced wildfires, massive storms, and deadly heat waves, along with the complexities around managing sustainable supply chains and emissions reduction, have awoken the corporate world to the planet’s stark realities of climate change,” reads the report.

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“Sustainability and environmental impact have become top of mind for executives across the world, with many starting to prioritize sustainable changes to how they operate.”

The overwhelming majority cited sustainability as a priority. But that hasn’t always translated into meaningful action.

The survey

According to the findings, 58 percent of leaders globally and 68 percent in the U.S. said their companies were guilty of greenwashing. Another 66 percent questioned whether or not their company’s sustainability efforts were genuine or not.

This mirrors recent findings by The New Climate Institute, which recently found net-zero emissions claims from 25 leading companies were highly exaggerated.

Despite the likelihood of greenwashing, 80 percent of executives surveyed said they gave their companies an above-average rating on environmental sustainability. Ninety-three percent said they were open to linking compensation to ESG goals or already have similar efforts in place. Sixty-five percent, however, said they didn’t know how to do that.

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When it came to tracking progress, 36 percent said their companies were actively doing that with measurement tools in place, but only 17 percent said they’re using the data from the tools to measure and implement strategies to reduce their climate impact.

But the outlook is hopeful; 74 percent said sustainability can drive “powerful business transformations.” The leaders surveyed cited technology and sustainability as the top two areas where they plan to increase investments beginning this year and see them as going hand-in-hand to solve issues like the climate crisis. Seventy-eight percent said they cite technology as playing a critical role in future sustainability efforts.

Business accountability

The poll results come after European Union’s market watchdog, the European Securities and Markets Authority announced plans in February to legally define greenwashing in an effort to enforce measurable climate action.

EMSA said the ideal scenario would include a complete set of rules on prohibited market behaviors that would include banning certain behaviors and claims that are vague or misleading.

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“[T]here is now a real need to address greenwashing without delay, even if all the legislative stepping stones are not fully in place yet,” ESMA said.

The survey results also come on the heels of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s proposed climate impact disclosure rules for listed companies.

Those measures would hold companies to regular reporting on emissions, including the more challenging Scope 3 emissions. It would also require transparency around climate reduction targets and risks.


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