Last week I wrote about a study that claims corporate greenwashing is growing at “an alarming rate.” The International Capital Market Association (ICMA) just published its latest report “Market integrity and greenwashing risks in sustainable finance” with a headline finding that is pretty much just the opposite: “greenwashing is not prevalent in the green bond market.” Granted, the universe of in-scope organizations differs between the two studies – which could be considered interesting insight on its own.
Even so, ICMA wasn’t all smiles:
“wider concerns in the sustainable fund industry exist, for example, regarding investment methodologies and fund naming… Looking to solutions, we propose that unpacking greenwashing into areas of actual concern is more actionable than further expanding current definitions… existing or pending sustainable finance regulations in many jurisdictions are highly relevant … We underline, however, the importance of ensuring the usability and the international operability of these regulations.”
While the paper’s recommendations are primarily intended for policy makers and regulators, the five recommendations are instructive for those issuing, rating, advising on, or even buying green or sustainability-linked bonds:
- Concentrate on actionable areas of concern in sustainable finance: “… catch-all definitions of greenwashing risk paralysing market participants due to both reputational and litigation fears.”
- Help improve the availability of data and analysis on market integrity in relation to these areas: “there is insufficient data and analysis available on market integrity in both the sustainable bond and fund market which needs to be remedied by efforts from both the official sector and the market.”
- Reference existing legislation where enforcement may be needed: “existing laws and financial regulation contain effective safeguards against misrepresentation and of course fraud.”
- Implement current regulatory initiatives with a focus on international interoperability and usability: there are multiple regulatory initiatives from major jurisdictions targeting the key areas of concern in sustainable finance. The priority should be (i) to promote their international operability in a global market, and (ii) to address identified usability issues.
- Continue to leverage the positive contribution of market best practice: “Regulators and policy makers can further leverage the best practice the market has developed when they consider that voluntary guidance may be insufficient to support its integrity.”
In reality, this is good advice for just about any aspect of ESG strategy and disclosure.
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