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ASIC is cracking down on greenwashing – where funds might be misrepresenting the environmental credentials or sustainability of a financial product. But greenhushing is apparently on the rise too – where companies remain silent on their ESG credentials, sometimes out of fear of getting it wrong.

Kiarne Treacy, Chief Executive of Sustainable Choice Group, talks to Sean Aylmer about her web platform SustainabilityTracker.com, and how it helps to combat greenwashing and greenhushing.

Find out more: https://fearandgreed.com.au

See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

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Sean Aylmer: Welcome to the Fear and Greed Daily Interview. I’m Sean Aylmer.

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Sean Aylmer: I’ve talked before about ASIC cracking gown on greenwashing, where

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Sean Aylmer: funds might be misrepresenting the environmental credentials or sustainability of

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Sean Aylmer: a financial product. And it goes beyond finance and investing

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Sean Aylmer: to any company making environmental claims. It’s something we’re going

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Sean Aylmer: to hear plenty more about as more companies focus on

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Sean Aylmer: their ESG credentials. It emphasizes the importance of transparency, of good,

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Sean Aylmer: clear communication, and supporting claims with proof. Kiarne Treacy is

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Sean Aylmer: the Chief Executive Officer of Sustainable Choice Group. Part of

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Sean Aylmer: the group is a web platform called sustainabilitytracker.com. Kiarne, welcome

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Sean Aylmer: to Fear and Greed.

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Kiarne Treacy: Thank you so much for having me.

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Sean Aylmer: So tell me all about Sustainability Tracker. What is it? Where’d it

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Sean Aylmer: come from? Where did the idea come from?

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Kiarne Treacy: So sustainabilitytracker. com is a web platform that is intended

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Kiarne Treacy: to centralise and democratise sustainability information for businesses, sort of

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Kiarne Treacy: like your one stop shop for sustainability for consumers, for

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Kiarne Treacy: potential employees, for investors, for anybody who wants to get

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Kiarne Treacy: a peek under the covers of what a business is doing.

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Kiarne Treacy: And it gives businesses an opportunity to communicate and talk

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Kiarne Treacy: about the things that they’re doing without having to put

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Kiarne Treacy: it on a billboard and risk that they’re greenwashing. But

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Kiarne Treacy: actually having all of the information published on a public platform,

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Kiarne Treacy: and it’s designed in line with the ACCC guidelines around

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Kiarne Treacy: greenwashing to help business. It’s sort of got guardrails in

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Kiarne Treacy: it to help businesses avoid greenwashing as they’re uploading content

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Kiarne Treacy: to it. The idea came about three and a half

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Kiarne Treacy: years ago. I’m a media and marketing person by trade

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Kiarne Treacy: and working with some clients who wanted to do marketing

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Kiarne Treacy: campaigns around sustainability. And at the time, I didn’t know

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Kiarne Treacy: anything about it and I said, ” Oh, it feels a

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Kiarne Treacy: little bit risky. Give me a bit of time to

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Kiarne Treacy: look into it and see if we should be doing

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Kiarne Treacy: a big marketing campaign around this.” And I said, ” I

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Kiarne Treacy: don’t think we’re ready for that yet, because there’s still

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Kiarne Treacy: a few things to tick off.” And then my client

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Kiarne Treacy: said to me, ” Well, where do we put this information?

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Kiarne Treacy: How do we tell our story? How do we get

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Kiarne Treacy: it out there?” And I said, ” I honestly don’t know.

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Kiarne Treacy: Let me go and look into it.” And I started

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Kiarne Treacy: looking for this central web platform to publish this data

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Kiarne Treacy: and it didn’t exist. And I felt that it should

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Kiarne Treacy: and that it would one day and all of a

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Kiarne Treacy: sudden I was on my way building it. So yeah, it

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Kiarne Treacy: sort of just sprung from one idea one day, and

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Kiarne Treacy: then minutes later I was writing a brand strategy on

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Kiarne Treacy: how we were going to do it.

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Sean Aylmer: Wow. Okay. So let’s take me through how it works.

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Sean Aylmer: I know John West, the seafood company is on the

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Sean Aylmer: platform. Maybe you could use that as an example of

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Sean Aylmer: how sustainabilitytracker. com works.

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Kiarne Treacy: So it’s a search platform, so you can go in

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Kiarne Treacy: there and search for particular brands. If you’re interested in

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Kiarne Treacy: looking up a particular brand, if you want to understand the

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Kiarne Treacy: credentials of one of your favourites, you can search that way.

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Kiarne Treacy: Or you can look up tuna, for example, and you

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Kiarne Treacy: can see which brands on our website have tuna. And the

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Kiarne Treacy: idea is a business will publish the credentials that they have,

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Kiarne Treacy: what is true and what they have. And so it’s

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Kiarne Treacy: different for every different business. In the case of John West,

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Kiarne Treacy: they publish information about the Marine Stewardship Council and how

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Kiarne Treacy: they operate, how they source the seafood that they put

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Kiarne Treacy: into a number of the brands their parent company Simplot owns,

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Kiarne Treacy: and how they source more responsible seafood. And then in

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Kiarne Treacy: other cases of other businesses, it might be that they

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Kiarne Treacy: are carbon- neutral and they might want to have that

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Kiarne Treacy: report available of their carbon neutrality. Others might be B

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Kiarne Treacy: Corp certified, and so they can put that on their profile.

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Kiarne Treacy: So it’s really about saying there’s no one size fits

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Kiarne Treacy: all approach, and there are hundreds of different frameworks and SBTi (Science Based Targets initiative)

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Kiarne Treacy: and all sorts of different ways that different businesses report

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Kiarne Treacy: on their sustainability. So we haven’t restricted that as to

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Kiarne Treacy: sort of how you must do it. It’s about being

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Kiarne Treacy: transparent about what you have. And then as I mentioned earlier,

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Kiarne Treacy: with regards to supporting those claims, we have tools in

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Kiarne Treacy: there where you can upload your certificate, where you can

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Kiarne Treacy: break things down by their product lifecycle, where you can

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Kiarne Treacy: upload your reports so that it’s all on a single destination.

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Kiarne Treacy: It’s easy to manage. And it’s on a public platform

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Kiarne Treacy: where anybody can access it so that consumers can find

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Kiarne Treacy: it so that you can put your hand up and say,

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Kiarne Treacy: we’re not perfect, but here’s what we’ve got. We’re transparent

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Kiarne Treacy: about it. We’ve got nothing to hide. And I think

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Kiarne Treacy: that’s the biggest thing that’s happening right now is about

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Kiarne Treacy: this crippling fear of for businesses to talk about sustainability

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Kiarne Treacy: because they’re not finished and there’s no such thing as finished.

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Kiarne Treacy: So it’s about starting the conversation.

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Sean Aylmer: Okay. So the provenance of what the companies are saying,

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Sean Aylmer: we are relying on the companies, and it sounds like

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Sean Aylmer: you’re encouraging them to upload and provide the proof as

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Sean Aylmer: well, is that right?

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Kiarne Treacy: Correct. Yep. It’s a self- reporting tool. So obviously there

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Kiarne Treacy: are parameters around the level. They may need to be

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Kiarne Treacy: completely honest and they’ve signed a whole bunch of agreements

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Kiarne Treacy: around that. But we allow the businesses to self- report,

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Kiarne Treacy: upload their own information to communicate the way that they

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Kiarne Treacy: want to. And yes, and it’s designed that they can

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Kiarne Treacy: upload the certificates and the proofs. So if they say

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Kiarne Treacy: they’re carbon- neutral, for example, this is where you can

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Kiarne Treacy: put your reports and your certificates and your third party

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Kiarne Treacy: certifiers to show that that’s actually true.

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Sean Aylmer: Okay. Have you had a lot of interest from both

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Sean Aylmer: companies and then also from the public or people who

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Sean Aylmer: potentially want to know information about the green credentials of

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Sean Aylmer: an organization or an asset?

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Kiarne Treacy: Yeah, it’s been really varied, I think. So there’s a

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Kiarne Treacy: lot of consumer interest in things like fashion. Of course,

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Kiarne Treacy: there’s a movement around FMCG as well. I think people

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Kiarne Treacy: are starting to think a lot more about what’s in

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Kiarne Treacy: their trolley. But I think also what we are finding

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Kiarne Treacy: more than we probably expected is that businesses who are

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Kiarne Treacy: wanting to look more into their supply chains as well

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Kiarne Treacy: and just be able to understand who’s aligned with the

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Kiarne Treacy: work that they do. So the way that the platform

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Kiarne Treacy: works is that it could connect you. So in the case

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Kiarne Treacy: of John West, if you are a member of the

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Kiarne Treacy: Marine Stewardship Council, which they are, the Marine Stewardship Council

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Kiarne Treacy: has a page on our platform with all of their

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Kiarne Treacy: members. So it’s about building this network and connecting businesses

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Kiarne Treacy: together so that they can see where they stack up

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Kiarne Treacy: against others, I guess. And who else is in their

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Kiarne Treacy: community and has aligned values.

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Sean Aylmer: Stay with me, Kiarne. We’ll be back in a minute.

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Sean Aylmer: I’m speaking to Kiarne Treacy, CEO of Sustainable Choice Group.

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Sean Aylmer: I mean, it’s interesting with the companies coming on board,

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Sean Aylmer: is there a big diversity of how people are thinking

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Sean Aylmer: about ESG? I don’t want to say greenwashing, but I mean that the sort

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Sean Aylmer: of the Green Hushing concept.

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Kiarne Treacy: It’s wild. So we recently launched the Leaders in Sustainability

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Kiarne Treacy: Network, which is another platform in the Sustainable choice group

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Kiarne Treacy: because there’s just been so much confusion and fear around

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Kiarne Treacy: what do we do? How do we do it right?

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Kiarne Treacy: How do we communicate it? We’re not ready to communicate

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Kiarne Treacy: it yet. Most of the businesses that we talk to

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Kiarne Treacy: will say, we love this. We really want to be

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Kiarne Treacy: on your platform. We’re just not ready yet. And I

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Kiarne Treacy: think what happened recently with regards to what ASIC’s been

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Kiarne Treacy: saying is that that’s not really an excuse anymore. The

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Kiarne Treacy: we’re not ready yet, and the silence is as good

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Kiarne Treacy: as greenwashing. And I think that’s an important step because

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Kiarne Treacy: we cannot have fundamental change while we are accepting silence.

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Sean Aylmer: I mean, this then brings things like standard language and

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Sean Aylmer: terminology, and it’s a nascent industry, so there’s a long

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Sean Aylmer: way to go here. But surely the goal eventually is

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Sean Aylmer: to be able to go to the website and actually

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Sean Aylmer: be able to compare apples and apples at the moment.

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Sean Aylmer: I’m sure it’s apples and bananas or something rather.

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Kiarne Treacy: Yeah. And of course, that was day one. I thought

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Kiarne Treacy: I was building a comparison site, that’s what I wanted

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Kiarne Treacy: to do. But the more we dig into it, the

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Kiarne Treacy: more we realize that the data is so fragmented and

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Kiarne Treacy: decentralized and different. It is actually physically impossible to do

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Kiarne Treacy: that right now. Absolutely it’s the goal. What I thought

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Kiarne Treacy: we would be building, I still think we are, but

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Kiarne Treacy: I think that the industries are so far behind being

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Kiarne Treacy: ready to actually have this like for like information. We’re

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Kiarne Treacy: getting closer. And the ACCC has recently shared some ideas

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Kiarne Treacy: around what they consider to be greenwashing.
And it’s helpful

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Kiarne Treacy: for us because it means that we got some guidelines

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Kiarne Treacy: coming about what is right and wrong, and we’ve been

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Kiarne Treacy: able to build that into the platform. What we’ve actually

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Kiarne Treacy: got coming up, possibly in the next couple of weeks

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Kiarne Treacy: to be released is a little tool that as you

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Kiarne Treacy: are adding words into, it’ll start telling you it’ll flag

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Kiarne Treacy: if something is an ACCC suggested greenwashing term. So if

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Kiarne Treacy: you say, this is a much greener alternative, we’ll put a

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Kiarne Treacy: little flag on there that says you might want to

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Kiarne Treacy: check that for example.

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Sean Aylmer: Oh, that’s interesting. Now, I mean, just quickly, your business

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Sean Aylmer: model, the companies pay to be on the tracker.

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Kiarne Treacy: They do, yeah. It’s an annual membership fee.

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Sean Aylmer: Okay. You mentioned that you had a background in marketing

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Sean Aylmer: earlier on. It just piqued my interest in terms of

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Sean Aylmer: using ESG and green credentials to market products. And there

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Sean Aylmer: seems to be, certainly in investing world, there’s a lot

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Sean Aylmer: of that, but even outside the investing world, there seems

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Sean Aylmer: to be a lot of marketing via ESG or at

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Sean Aylmer: least using ESG.

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Kiarne Treacy: Yes. And I think it’s problematic for so many reasons.

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Kiarne Treacy: I’m the biggest advocate of you shouldn’t be silent and

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Kiarne Treacy: you shouldn’t be silenced. But also the use of it

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Kiarne Treacy: in marketing. I think one of the big things that

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Kiarne Treacy: gets missed in all of the education around what is

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Kiarne Treacy: greenwashing and what isn’t greenwashing, I think is context. For

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Kiarne Treacy: me, if you’ve built a solar farm and that’s 10%

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Kiarne Treacy: of your energy usage, and that’s awesome, that’s a good

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Kiarne Treacy: news story. But you cannot put a picture of a

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Kiarne Treacy: solar farm on the front of the pack if people

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Kiarne Treacy: feel that what they are buying is 100% made with

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Kiarne Treacy: renewable energy. Whereas if you are writing an article and

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Kiarne Treacy: you’re explaining, ” Hey, this is what we’ve done. We’ve done

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Kiarne Treacy: all this great work, and this is now going to

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Kiarne Treacy: contribute 10% renewable energy to our production.” That’s a different

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Kiarne Treacy: story. So I think marketing and communicating about sustainability are

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Kiarne Treacy: two very, very different things.

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Sean Aylmer: Interesting. Now, I can’t let you go Kiarne without mentioning that this week

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Sean Aylmer: you are launching a podcast with Nova Entertainment. It’s called

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Sean Aylmer: Sustainable Transformation. What’s it about?

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Kiarne Treacy: So this was born from me having amazing conversations with

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Kiarne Treacy: business leaders every day who were talking about their ESG

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Kiarne Treacy: transformations and realizing that it seems like it’s wasted on

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Kiarne Treacy: only me hearing it. And so what I do is

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Kiarne Treacy: I’m chatting with different business leaders, sustainability leaders, anybody from

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Kiarne Treacy: Bare Footwear, which comes out this week through to Telstra

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Kiarne Treacy: or Kohls, and just different organizations and asking them, how

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Kiarne Treacy: did you do it? Where did you start? What were

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Kiarne Treacy: the challenges? So that other businesses can learn from that

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Kiarne Treacy: experience? And maybe so that we as consumers can start

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Kiarne Treacy: to understand the depth of work that goes into it

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Kiarne Treacy: and why some businesses make the choices that they make.

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Sean Aylmer: Kiarne, good luck with that. And thank you for talking to Fear and Greed.

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Kiarne Treacy: Thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it.

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Sean Aylmer: That was Kiarne Treacy, Chief Executive Officer of Sustainable Choice

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Sean Aylmer: Group. This is the Fear and Greed Daily Interview. Join

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Sean Aylmer: us every morning for the full episode of Fear and

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Sean Aylmer: Greed, Australia’s most popular business podcast. I’m Sean Aylmer. Enjoy

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Sean Aylmer: your day.