PR industry group appoints leadership for new unit to tackle greenwashing

The Public Relations & Communications Association of Asia Pacific has appointed Janissa Ng and Marta Bigio to lead efforts to confront the growing problem of greenwashing in corporate communications.

PRCA's APAC Sustainability Group
PRCA's APAC Sustainability Group, from top-left, clockwise: Janissa Ng (chair), Marta Bigio (vice chair), Jose Raymond, Ambarwati Dwilo, Sheena Koh, and Kavickumar Muruganathan. Image: PRCA

The Public Relations & Communications Association (PRCA) of Asia Pacific, an industry association for the public relations industry, has appointed leadership for a special group that aims to tackle greenwashing in corporate communications.

The plan to set up a taskforce to address greenwashing — the practice of making false, exaggerated or superficial sustainability claims — was announced by PRCA in June last year.

The new volunteer-led unit, called The Sustainability Group, will be led by Janissa Ng as chair and Marta Bigio as vice chair.

Ng is the former Singapore communications head of conservation group World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), who joined PR firm Spurwing last year.

Bigio, who previously led communications for sustainable sourcing at consumer goods giant Unilever, was recently appointed to lead the new sustainability practice for PR firm Redhill.

The group has been tasked to promote industry standards and practices in sustainability and communications, and aims to equip PR professionals to deliver “responsible” brand communications on sustainability-related topics, according to a press release from PRCA.

“As businesses face growing pressure to be accountable for their sustainability targets, The Sustainability Group is an industry effort to address greenwashing by plugging knowledge gaps and setting standards,” said Ng in a statement.

“We hope that this helps PR professionals drive trust and transparency on behalf of the brands and organisations they represent,” she said.

The group is aiming to establish guiding industry principles and shared definitions for key sustainability-related terms, and will run events and workshops to share best practices and technical expertise.

The group’s committee also includes the former chief executive of Singapore Environment Council (SEC) and corporate affairs head for Indonesian pulpwood firm Asia Pulp and Paper (APP), Jose Raymond, who is now director of strategic advisory, for PR firm PRecious Communications.

Other committee members include former SEC, APP and Neste executive Kavickumar Muruganathan, who is now running policy advocacy programmes for Coca-Cola Southeast Asia, Ambarwati Dwilo, senior consultant for PR firm Maverick Indonesia, and Sheena Koh, account manager, Redhill.

Corporate sustainability claims have surged in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, as companies have rushed to flaunt their green credentials with a flurry of net-zero and other sustainability declarations, with varying degrees of credibility. 

In April, Alibaba-owned e-commerce firm Lazada was called out for promoting plastic products as “planet-friendly” on Earth Day. A study of company websites in January found that 40 per cent used vague or unsubstantiated claims such as “eco” or “green” to denote sustainable products that could be misleading.

Ways to identify greenwashing include the absense of credible data, a brand only talking about sustainability around calendar events like Earth Day and International Women’s Day, and the sustainability function residing in the marketing or communications department.

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