Defining what constitutes a green company is a tough task, writes Lawrence Gosling, and if anything it is getting more complicated
There is no doubt HSBC is one of the greenest companies in big business. It has consistently come top or near top of the various sustainability rankings. And it has now cemented this position with the news that it has appointed Sir Nicholas Stern, he of the eponymous Stern Report, to be its adviser on climate change.
The cynics would say it is a PR stunt, but given the work HSBC has done to date and the undoubted credibility of Sir Nicholas, it would be wrong to view the tie up in this way.
But the next time you head on to a plane at a major airport, such as Heathrow in London, look at which companies are sponsoring the walkway. More often than not they are companies such as HSBC, they certainly are at Heathrow.
Witness the criticism of Tesco last week at its Annual General Meeting when it was faced with a South African woman, flown in, to protest at the wages being paid to workers in her country who supplied goods that end up Tesco stores.
As with HSBC, Tesco has good green credentials, and indeed was recently voted as one of the top ten greenest brands in the UK.
These two examples show (forgive the pun) that there are no black and white answers to what a 'green' company really is.
Your idea of green may be very different to my view of green – in fact the shades of green are beginning to look like the blades of grass on my lawn as I write this.
After the torrential rain we've had in the last few weeks some parts of it are looking thread bare, other patches deep green, and other patches somewhere in between.
There is a dilemma and challenge for major business. How green to be?
The argument was so much easier 20 or 30 years ago when discrimination as consumers and investors was based on ethical issues.
Oil companies were off the list because they spilled oil into oceans killing wildlife, and Barclays bank was off the list because they invested in apartheid South Africa. At least the situation is still the same with arms and tobacco manufacturers, but with environmental policies everything is far less clear.
As the climate change debate evolves all businesses, big and small, are going to embark on a green journey to establish their credentials.
Even with the best will in the world, the future is always going to look like my damp and sodden lawn. But it's a journey they must all go on.
Lawrence Gosling is group editorial director of Incisive Media.
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