22/08/2023 at 15:17 #29862Charlotte OstermanKeymaster
Thank you for such an interesting post about impact washing Andy, and I couldn’t agree more: Impact washing is an important topic and one we could be doing more about.
The OCED Social Impact measurement for the Social and Solidarity Economy talks about some trends we’re seeing in the social impact measurement sphere and one of them is about using third party verification to tackle impact washing: https://www.impactterms.org/wp-content/uploads/OECD21_SIM-for-the-SSE-1.pdf Similarly, an recent Pioneers Post article that predicts a 300% increase in the the social impact measurement industry says that it’s driven by growing concerns about greenwashing and emerging regulatory requirements are pushing organisations to better measure and report on their impact: https://www.pioneerspost.com/news-views/20230615/300-growth-predicted-us8bn-impact-measurement-and-management-industry-2030-new?utm_source=PPnewsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=408
As you describe, the principles and in particular verifying the results is an important contribution as to how to avoid impact washing. But I think you’re also highlighting an excellent suggestions as to discussions (and taskforce) where SVUK could be doing a more to advocate, collaborate and influence the current practices and risk of impact washing.
Open question to all members: What are you currently working to avoid risk or claims of impact washing? How do as SVUK support you on this challenge around impact washing that Andy raises above?
Please get involved and share you thoughts.25/07/2023 at 09:46 #29228Andy WarbyParticipant
My name is Andy Gawin Warby, I’m a co-founder and Partner at Envoy Partnership – one of the longest-serving (surviving/suffering) social value advisories in the UK. It’s been quiet on the forum for a while, which is a shame as it’s been set up for us as members to exchange ideas and practices and galvanise action.
Isabelle and Laurentine have asked me to jot some ideas down to see if there’s any appetite to change that. SO here goes:
As organisations and members, what are our policies and guidance offered to tackle “impact washing”? By impact washing, I mean the practice of some organisations or even fund managers, some in controversial sectors, of misleading and misinforming consumers and investors about their credentials or overstated claims around the social, economic or environmental good they are achieving – i.e. in order to look more socially responsible or impactful than they really are.
This hoodwinks investors and customers, enables poor practices to remain unchanged, and potentially short-changes communities who could be getting more innovation/more benefit/avoid worse outcomes.
Social Value principles require organisations to be as transparent as possible about the depth and duration of their impact as well as the unintended consequences they create on material stakeholders. It is the case that some of those unintended consequences help to destroy the lives of the stakeholders we are trying to give voice to!
Given the very real reputational risks to SVUK and its members of sub-standard, unreflective impact claims and reporting of Social Value that is way off of the principles and methodological steps, what is our guidance and policy on impact washing? What if one or two members are found to be participating directly or indirectly in impact washing intentionally?How does this affect the rest of our reputations, and that of SVUK?
This smart piece of research shows that consumers will perceive your organisation poorly if you happen to be positioned on the same page as an impact washing / potentially fraudulent organisation: https://www.agilitypr.com/pr-news/public-relations/new-report-reveals-how-consumer-perception-of-misleading-content-impacts-brand-favorability/
To be fair, greenwashing is already covered by the Competition & Market Authority’s Green Claims Code. But a range of impact-washing cases and over-stated claims of impact do not do our practice much good, and could even make a lot of people cynical about how those claims are compiled, as well as the people who compile the numbers.
Surely we need an Impact Washing code, at the very least as guidance on how members should deal with it if they observe it with a project or organisation they are working with directly? And could SVUK host a taskforce on this in partnership with the CMA or the BSI or the Impact Investing Institute? It becomes even more essential if we think about impact washing in global trade.
I’m hopeful – and would be thankful! – that perhaps this forum might elicit a thought or response or ideas!
For examples of impact washing, the following come to mind:
· To mitigate for their huge fossil fuel pollution, Shell oil company will point us to their proportionately small social investments in Nigeria, whilst continuing with business as usual and accepting no culpability for the huge environmental and health destruction resulting from their operations in the Niger delta apparently wiping out /killing off numerous communities: https://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/world/environment-news/climate-change/61317/crude-justice-the-nigerians-taking-shell-to-court
· Some food brands might present themselves as having a positive effect on our health, when they are really high sugar – https://academic.oup.com/heapro/article/36/4/1029/6026524)
· “Sports-washing” tactics can often be used by companies or governments with poor environmental or human rights records, exploiting sport to claim a more virtuous image, whilst refusing to change any of their negative practices;
· Arms, surveillance monitoring, and defence companies who are achieving wellbeing for their well paid workforce, yet are quite happy to sell bombs and missiles that in the end force devastated people to escape war and seek refuge or asylum in the UK (many across the channel in those small boats, Rishi) without explaining their due diligence process for screening that client’s human rights record (as required by the UN Arms Trade Treaty): https://www.amnesty.org.uk/press-releases/arms-companies-are-washing-their-hands-their-responsibilities-new-report
· Housebuilders and even local authorities who count apprenticeship starts as impact and put an overstated value on this, but don’t report on whether those apprentices actually complete or have a longer-term career pathway.
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