Financial institutions were behind a 70% increase in the number of climate-related greenwashing incidents in the past year, according to an analysis by ESG data firm RepRisk, which also found greenwashing is on the rise generally.
The new report comes just a couple of weeks after the SEC reached a $25 million settlement with a Deutsche Bank subsidiary in part over greenwashing allegations.
While RepRisk’s report found that greenwashing is on the rise broadly (from one in five incidents last year to one in four this year), it also points to a related trend, social washing. Like greenwashing, social washing involves companies painting themselves in a positive light while obscuring underlying issues — in this case a social issue like diversity, equity or human rights.
Greenwashing and social washing are often related, the report found, with one in three public companies linked to greenwashing also connected to incidents of social washing.
A few other key findings:
- Greenwashing risk is accelerating the quickest for companies headquartered in Europe and North America, with the number of companies involved in an ESG risk incident rising by a combined 43%.
- Financial institutions saw a 70% increase in the number of climate-related greenwashing risk incidents, and more than half of those involved the oil and gas activities.
- Social washing issues were largely centered on poor employment conditions (24%), human rights (23%) and occupational health and safety (13%).