"Companies that do not incorporate sustainability within their mission are doomed to fail”
"Everyone on this planet cares about sustainability. If people are interested in it, companies are interested in it". With this statement Ana Palencia, Communication Director of Unilever, began her speech at the panel "Greenwashing: always a bad idea?", organised by the Sustainability Observatory of the UPF Barcelona School of Management (UPF-BSM) as part of the presentation of the book Chasing planetary wellbeing: cross-cutting views on sustainability.
Moderated by Carla Turró, journalist at Cadena SER and director of El Balcó, Palencia debated with Marc Ros, CEO and co-founder of After, and Marcos Eguiguren, Director of the International Chair of Sustainable Finance at UPF-BSM, on the role of companies in sustainability. "In some sectors, sustainability is not the first, second nor third priority. This is still happening gradually", said Ros, who added that this trend "comes at a complex time, due to inflation and the increase in energy costs".
"In some sectors, sustainability is missing. And this trend comes at a complex time, driven by inflation and rising energy costs"
"It is easy to say that sustainability is expensive, but have analyses really been carried out to prove it?" said Unilever's Communication Director, who defended that "in terms of sustainability, the cost of inaction is always higher than the cost of action". In this regard, Eguiguren shared Palencia's vision and announced that, in the coming weeks, the International Chair in Sustainable Finances will publish a study that analyses the performance of global investment funds managed on the basis of sustainability, the results of which indicate that their performance is "better or equal to that of traditional funds".
Getting it right is expensive?
"Companies that do not incorporate sustainability within their mission are doomed to failure," said Palencia, who, while admitting that there are many brands "that do it well, it is those with purpose that make the difference on a social and environmental level". "How can we differentiate a company that is doing genuinely well from one that is lying and applying purely marketing strategies? By analysing its purpose," said Eguiguren, who added: "The only thing that truly distances a company from greenwashing is its purpose, its intention".
"The only thing that truly distances a company from greenwashing is its purpose, its intention"
According to Ros, in order to "do things right", it is necessary to "check everything". As an example of this, the CEO of After alluded to a Barbie film in which the main character has the goal to " be able to have 1000 pairs of shoes in her wardrobe". "Sustainability is about verifying whether everything we are doing for future generations we are doing it right", he added. In his turn, Eguiguren ironised: "Barbie, 1 - Milton Friedman, 0".
"From the point of view of communication, we are in a phase in which we have to work on the what and the why. The message we convey to society is key", said Ros, something which Palencia and Eguiguren agreed on.
What is the role of public administration?
"We have to demand everything and expect nothing", said the CEO of After in response to Turró's question about the role that the public administration should play in this process. "If this has to be a matter of subsidies, it will never happen," he regretted. In this sense, Eguiguren assured that he does not believe in subsidies, as "they are an unacceptable interference in the market". "I can consider some taxes, but only if they are applied intelligently", he added.
"You have to demand everything from the public administration and expect nothing. If this has to be a matter of subsidies, it will never happen"
Palencia said that the public administration is a "key partner" in strategic alliances and that "it must be incorporated into the how". However, she admitted that "there is a lot of room for improvement, as they often do not listen to the actors in the value chain to know whether or not to help".
It is precisely the role of the administration and sanctions that is the subject of the article "Sustainable finance or the abduction of Europe", written by Marcos Eguiguren in the book presented today by the Sustainability Observatory, which aims to be an effective bridge between the academic, social and economic worlds through the transfer of knowledge in the field of sustainability.