ESG or Environmental Social Governance is the criteria used by some mutual funds and exchange traded funds to offer green options to investors. It’s what your bank will send your way, when you ask about funds that invest in clean energy and conservation. After reviewing three ESG funds, all I have to say is, ‘no thanks.’
ESG is primarily greenwashing, a term used for initiatives that lack environmental-integrity: They are marketed as green but they barely even make a dent in reducing carbon emissions.
CNG or Compressed Natural Gas emits only 5 to 10 percent less CO2 than gasoline or diesel, and investing in it cannot be considered green. Luxury hotels that include two-day laundry cycles instead of daily washes are not green (a study of 58 luxury hotels in Taiwan revealed that 50kg-CO2 emissions are generated for each room/night sold), and eco-brands that ship worldwide are not green either (aviation produces 74% more CO2 than road transport)—This is greenwashing!
The presence of Oil and Gas companies in an ESG equity list highlights the lack of commitment towards decarbonisation. Maybe they need to be reminded that CO2 emissions are not green.
To be truly green we need to move away from fossil fuel; no small task this. Those who get there, live by nature’s cycles, undertake forestation, use solar, wind, or bioenergy, and make in quantities that allow time for resources to replenish – there’s a lot more complexity to this mix than apparent. A commendable example of green is Navadarshanam in Tamil Nadu, India. A land-based community that started in the 1990s on 115 acres (~46.5 hectares or 465,000 square meters) of arid land, which today, after thirty-years, is largely a healthy forest dedicated to wilderness preservation.
Here are three important principles, amongst others, that they follow:
- Limiting their use of power, by way of lifestyle adaptation.
- Generating the little power they need using alternative technologies and traditional systems.
- Using minimal material and energy in their architecture design and buildings, and maintaining human scale by avoiding mechanised tools and processes.
Not all of us can do what the community at Navadarshanam has done. To step outside a fossil fuel guzzling system is unimaginable for most. And we do not have thirty-years. All we have is this decade—till 2030—to damage control, failing which, we may witness (unlikely we will survive till then) a temperature rise of 3.2°C.
At the current global average warming of 1°C, we already have wildfires, drying water tables, bleached corals, and melting glaciers to reckon with.
If all anthropogenic emissions (including aerosol-related) were reduced to zero immediately, any further warming beyond the 1°C already experienced would likely be less than 0.5°C over the next two to three decades (high confidence), and likely less than 0.5°C on a century time scale (medium confidence), due to the opposing effects of different climate processes and drivers. A warming greater than 1.5°C is therefore not geophysically unavoidable: whether it will occur depends on future rates of emission reductions.
The longer the delay in reducing CO2 emissions towards zero, the larger the likelihood of exceeding 1.5°C.
-Sixth Assessment Report, Working Group I, August 2021 IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, part of the United Nations)
You and I may not be able to influence policy, but we can support the call for change. Here are some adaptations that we can put into practice to help meet the urgent goal to reduce emissions:
- Sell our holdings and equity in oil, gas, and lubricant companies – it’s okay if the stock gets devalued.
- Reduce our use of power – Don’t turn on festive lights, keep apartment buildings dimly lit, try and install sensors in housing complexes and offices, don’t reach for the air conditioning remote, climb the stairs if possible.
- Use grass alternatives in the garden and the backyard – Choose those that are drought resistant and suit the local climate. Thyme, chamomile, and some variety of mint seem to be common ones. Check with a permaculture practitioner. Read some suggestions. Grass alternatives reduce our use of water and aid habitation by insects and butterflies, they may also help trap more moisture in the soil.
- Rewild – plant more native trees and reduce the grass in our lawns. How about a 70:30 ratio? 70 percent trees and 30 percent grass alternatives.
- Ask the government representative in your area to assign space in parks, and on inside roads to plant more native trees.
- Buy local. Buy less.
- Take time to book your next flight. Do it only if it’s unavoidable.
- Choose circular design companies where possible – those who consider the entire cycle from resource to product (and packaging) and back to resource, taking only what can grow back, and depleting nothing. ‘From nature you can always see that something that we consider as waste is the best energy fuel for something else to grow.’ – Lakshmi Menon, designer, Kerala (India)