Sustainability Series: Countering Greenwashing in Southeast Asia

Featured Image For Sustainability Series: Countering Greenwashing In Southeast Asia

Image generated by Google Gemini.

This is the second iteration of UOB FinLab’s Sustainability Series, in which we discuss greenwashing challenges in Southeast Asia and the adequate steps SMEs can take to tackle them. Southeast Asia’s sustainability initiatives have advanced significantly in recent decades as awareness about the repercussions of climate change continues to rise. However, the misleading nature of greenwashing can hamper this progress by undermining the public’s trust in any corporate sustainable initiative, activity or policy. For example, electric vehicles (EVs) in Southeast Asia continue to gain many supporters who usually identify the product with a green image as it eliminates carbon exhaust emissions. In reality, EVs can potentially host hydrogen fuels sourced from coal even though they produce no carbon exhaust emissions. The true environmental impact of an EV thus becomes dubious and questionable if such information is undisclosed by a party through ineffective green reporting. At UOB FinLab, we believe that SMEs in Southeast Asia can benefit from higher quality green reporting and enhanced overall sustainability knowledge to counteract greenwashing and drive true sustainability impact. SMEs can achieve this through active efforts in demonstrating a deep understanding of sustainability factors, being more transparent of a product’s true environmental footprint, as well as producing data that is measurable and verifiable to the public.

Enhancing green reporting quality for SMEs

Information asymmetry can often be the main perpetrator of greenwashing events, as SMEs may be unaware of the crucial details about sustainability that require active disclosure, which then leads to rectification of unsustainable practices. Moreover, the process of how to disclose such information necessitates a robust knowledge of rating systems or metrics that can be measured by the public.

According to the UOB Business Outlook Study 2023 Report, SMEs in Singapore and across Southeast Asia have struggled to implement sustainability. Only 38% of Singaporean businesses have started to initiate such practices. Furthermore, UOB FinLab’s Sustainability Innovation Programme 2023 first revealed how over half (58%) of local businesses had not started their sustainability journey, while 59% had a limited understanding of green topics or concepts.

Tackling these challenges is crucial for the region’s environment, and the team at UOB FinLab is committed to providing the necessary support, which involves empowering SMEs with greater access to knowledge pools, sustainability-measurement tools, greentech solutions, and financing opportunities. In line with this, our Sustainability Innovation Programme 2023 introduced industry experts to SMEs and taught them the fundamentals of sustainability in the business world – resulting in 82% reporting a greater grasp of sustainability after attending the programme.

The programme further provided SME participants access to tools such as UOB’s Sustainability Compass, which generates a customised report based on one’s sector and sustainability maturity stage – providing clear and actionable next steps to chart sustainability journey with confidence and build a more resilient business. Combining knowledge with the appropriate tools, 65% of participants in 2023 felt secure and motivated enough to embark on their own sustainability journeys.

Cementing public trust in SME sustainability solutions

While the Sustainability Innovation Programme addresses SMEs’ demand for greater sustainability knowledge; the complementary GreenTech Accelerator Programme addresses the supply factor as it creates ideal conditions for SMEs to co-create and realise with ESG goals with greentech innovations. With these programmes, the team at UOB FinLab aims to develop a holistic, sustainability ecosystem to empowers SMEs and greentechs to scale and adopt sustainability initiatives effectively.

UOB FinLab launched its inaugural GreenTech Accelerator in Singapore in 2022, with the purpose of enabling greentechs to grow, transform, forge partnerships and pilots to meet the sustainability needs of businesses. This year, the second iteration of the GreenTech Accelerator will expand to a wider regional audience in Southeast Asia, including countries such as Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand.  The 6-month equity-free programme covers themes such as energy efficiency, circular economy and waste management, sustainability reporting and carbon management, food and agriculture, sustainable cities and urban planning.

Participants will be able to tackle actual problem statements to co-create and pilot solutions with UOB FinLab’s broad network of over 25,000 enterprises, governments, SMEs, and technology providers. Furthermore, participants can gain up to SGD100,000 in funding for relevant, deployable, and cutting-edge solutions, as well as mentorship, masterclasses, and networking opportunities with renowned business leaders and industry experts across ASEAN.

Participants will have the opportunity to strengthen the legitimacy of their sustainable solutions in the eyes of the public by leveraging our network’s strong expertise and effective solutions-testing.

“Through the programme, we connected with more than 15 industry experts, and we managed to embark on a pilot project together with UOB to support Thai shrimp farmers in digitalising their processes. We’re excited to leverage our IoT Smart Farming Solution to analyse production-related data and tailor energy-saving solutions for businesses, establishing a more sustainable and efficient farming ecosystem in Thailand and ultimately Asia in the long run,” said Fabian Reusch, Managing Director and Founder of HydroNeo.

Equipping SMEs for ever-evolving sustainability journeys

Revolutionising and safeguarding our planet for future generations takes all of us – from businesses to innovators, investors, and consumers. We, at UOB FinLab, will continue to play a leading role in such transformative change by imbuing our networks, expertise, and networks on SMEs – empowering them with the drive they need to scale their sustainability initiatives and improve our planet’s health.

Applications for the GreenTech Accelerator 2024 are now open until 31 March 2024.

Online programme

Start Smart Programme

Designed for business owners to enhance their digital capabilities through practical learning, this programme takes businesses to the next level.

Online programme

Start Smart Programme

Designed for business owners to enhance their digital capabilities through practical learning, this programme takes businesses to the next level.

Get updates on the latest trends, exclusive upcoming programmes and events offerings, straight to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Weekly Happenings by The FinLab Team!