A genuine sustainability journey or greenwashing?

FIDI’s efforts at minimising the impact of its conference in Bangkok are a step in the right direction, but as the pressure to become sustainable increases, Simon Hood, Director of John Mason International, says movers must ensure their claims are wholly authentic – or risk undermining their customers’ trust

During this year’s Earth Day, businesses fell over themselves to declare their dedication to creating a better environment for future generations. You didn’t have to look far to read about a company’s green credentials, from planting trees for every customer sending a parcel overseas to haulage organisations pulling out the stops to reduce their business mileage.

This is all very commendable. But how can real sustainability be possible within an industry that, by its very nature, uses unsustainable transport to send people and their belongings long distance, to destinations in far-flung corners of the globe?

I’m sceptical. It doesn’t matter how often relocation management companies (RMCs) ask suppliers to join their ‘sustainability journey’ if, in the end, it all comes down to price. They must use the cheapest options to service their customers’ expats; of course they must. An SME cannot invest in being green without charging a premium to cover the cost of it – and that would mean being ignored by RMCs, who, generally, award contracts to whoever can do the work for the lowest price.

In a previous role with a different company, I drove our business to become carbon neutral PAS2060. We planted 1,000 trees, reduced business mileage, attained ISO 14001 accreditation, and measured carbon emissions. And for what? Around the time sustainability was coming to the fore, we tendered for an environmental government department’s contract. We felt our commitment to creating a greener environment would give us an excellent chance. But no. The contract was awarded to a company with no green credentials because they were the cheapest option. Fast forward to today, and we’re seeing this same attitude among RMCs.

Environmentalist Jay Westerveld first used the phrase ‘greenwashing’ in 1986, when hotels were preaching to their guests about re-using towels when this did nothing but save the businesses plenty in laundry costs. Companies from all industries have since been greenwashing galore.

There is more accountability now because the public has better access to information, allowing them to fact check what they’re being told. Choosing which information we share and which we don’t to make ourselves look greener just won’t wash any more (pardon the pun). As an industry, we want to pursue greener practices, but I feel it’s all a bit cynical. Even within FIDI, we’re being told about the progress being made with global partners in creating ‘a more sustainable global mobility industry’, with initiatives such as the Coalition for Greener Mobility.

As the largest global alliance of international moving and relocation companies, FIDI has conferences across the world. We can’t get to these gatherings without flying. This grates with me when, at the same time, FIDI is pushing sustainability.

It’s time for us to be true with the messages we are sending to our customers. I urge caution, unless we can put our money where our mouths are. Our customers will not tolerate false claims that we are environmentally friendly. If they don’t believe our claims about sustainability, why would they not be sceptical about everything else we have to offer?

I’m not saying we should be ‘greenhushing’ – where businesses pretend to be less green for fear of being accused of greenwashing. Let’s just back up our claims with data. How are we measuring what we’re doing, and – if we are willing to invest in making our businesses more sustainable – how can we persuade RMCs to accept these extra costs? If they do, they will be able to honestly tell their own customers they are opting for the greenest options.

As for individual businesses, how about we just tell the truth? That we are not perfect. We can never be completely sustainable because of the very nature of our work. We can, however, acknowledge that there is more to be done, accept our environmental responsibilities, and be seen to be acting on them.

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