Grasping the significance and growing urgency of environmental, social, and governance (ESG) compliance, PR firms in the region are taking the first steps on a sustainable path to lessen environmental impact.
ESGmena spoke to a number of PR agencies that weighed in on sustainability, ESG policies, and greenwashing.
Houbara is among a few agencies that release an annual sustainability report. Its latest report documents Houbara’s carbon footprint, counting different aspects like electricity consumption, staff commutes, and drinking water, among others.
Speaking to ESGmena, the agency’s founder and CEO Loretta Ahmed said that companies in the region today understand the importance of ESG.
“Companies are realising that acting on ESG brings significant business opportunities and positive impact to the bottom line. However, most organisations are still at the start of their ESG journeys here,” Ahmed noted.
This is evidenced by the fact that financial authorities, including the UAE Securities and Commodities Authority (SCA), require companies to produce reports on sustainability and ESG-related issues.
Gihan Hyde, CEO and founder of Communique, said her agency solely focuses on helping clients integrate ESG strategies so they can attract the right customers.
In an interview with Esgmena, she explained that while the commitments made by MENA countries regarding ESG is “admirable and extremely ambitious”, much work needs to be done for the region to play its part in saving its people and the planet.
“To begin with, we lack the governmental and regulatory infrastructure that would normalise recycling and circular economy for instance, and we also lack the behavioural change and mindset to live and breathe the green commitments that several of the MENA countries have committed to. We lack the standardisation needed for the organisations in the MENA region to start its ESG journey and to report on it,” Hyde added.
However, Asda’a BCW’s founder Sunil John struck a positive note, observing that the region is heading in the right direction.
“Several companies have already signed up for the UAE Climate Responsible Companies Pledge to enhance their participation in the country’s decarbonisation drive, while many others such as Etisalat have pledged to achieve net zero status for its Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions by 2030,” he said.
Despite this, John noted that more work is needed. Citing a survey John said that “among those who said they had an ESG policy, more than half [52 percent] said they did not fully understand it.”
As such, the organisation has launched a specialist ESG advisory called OnePoint5 to support clients, build, deliver and communicate their strong ESG frameworks, he said.
For Jamal Al Mawed, founder and Managing Director of Gambit Communications, the key lies in effective communication about climate change risks.
“The region, which is the most water-scarce region in the world and vulnerable to the effects of climate change, needs comms professionals who intrinsically understand this space and are able to give consultancy that is based on genuine insights, not just basic knowledge. Specialisation always raises the bar for any industry, and that will have a knock-on effect in terms of the actual activities happening,” Mawed told Esgmena.
“With all this happening, there will be growing demand for ESG comms professionals who can help clients by demystifying the subject and also making it easier for journalists to understand the importance of this sector and communicate the same to the target audience,” he said.
At the same time, in order to benchmark with the rest of the world, the MENA region needs to align itself with the UNSDGs from an operational and policy perspective, he observed.
“To benchmark with the rest of the world, we also need training and development opportunities in the region for communication professionals to understand how complex ideas can be communicated effectively in different languages,” said.
Touching on greenwashing, which involves making false or misleading claims about sustainability of a product or service, the interviewees held the view that the phenomenon comes with reputational and financial loss.
For Hyde, greenwashing is still a new concern in the MENA region and responses to it haven’t developed as strongly as in Europe.
“These untrue claims [companies greenwashing their ESG policies] not only cause harm to the reputation of the organisations but also causes financial harm,” she said.
Hyde stressed that employees, investors, and activists care deeply about building a green economy, noting that 38 percent of customers are actively boycotting brands that don’t align with their green values.
On the other hand, Ahmed explained that “greenhushing” is another issue that has been plaguing the industry. It is “a term used to describe the fear felt by a brand that is paralysed by not knowing what to say, so it says nothing at all,” she said.
“Greenwashing and greenhushing are one of the key risks to any organisation’s reputation. Communications professionals are aware of the risks but learning to market ethically is a journey both the business and their communications teams need to own. Customers and stakeholders can forgive for not being environmentally perfect, but only if a business is transparent and honest about its progress, while clearly and accessibly reporting their ESG data,” Ahmed added.
“As you can see…the data is clear. If you greenwash your ESG messages, you will lose the above audience in a heartbeat,” Hyde said.