Earth Day from the tropics! (#1)
Who are we and what is this about? Introducing a new climate newsletter, From the Tropics!
Happy Earth Day, and welcome to this new newsletter, from the tropics!
first things first, subscribe to us by adding your email below and get email updates!
Now before I go into what this newsletter is about, let me do a small self-intro. I am an environmental studies graduate who decided to use her technical training in environmental science to communicate climate information on social media (Instagram: @theweirdandwild) through graphics and illustration. I work a lot on climate issues and have 102938 tabs open just on climate news.As a generalist, my interests jump from granular topics like waste, food, fashion to macro-analysis of climate governance, economics and community action. As an environmental graduate, even trying to decipher and wade through the deluge of climate-related information is insane. As someone living in tropical Singapore, you also realize that climate information also has to be localized to be understood in the context of our region. I wanted to highlight more voices from folks working on climate change in Singapore and this region especially since I was inspired by climate newsletters like Heated and Hot Take, . I thought it would be nice to launch the birth of “From the Tropics” on a day like Earth Day.
“From the Tropics” is really my first foray into newsletters in an attempt to provide a new space to go deeper into the nuance of environmental issues that 10-squares on Instagram cannot do. Once a month, this newsletter brings interesting material from a constantly growing pile of climate information of all topics and digests it for you, in hopes of providing insight and also break down its complexity from the lens of folks working and living in the Tropics. I hope that we can share interesting climate insights from industry, academia of all content mediums - so expect articles, writings, tweets, podcasts, illustrations and the likes.
So this really is a space of collective sharing and learning.
This is going to be a space to talk about the difficult parts about green and just transitions. About the difficult but necessary transformative shifts in business models, collaborative structures, governance and more. It’s going to be a space to hear from groups really working on the problem but not blaring their horns in the mainstream media. It’s about hearing from those who may not have a seat at the table. It’s not all positive, nor is it all negative. The more we acknowledge and embrace that the climate crisis is complex and that we are continuously learning, and can humble ourselves to be corrected, I think that’s the way forward. I mean for me, I just learnt about the horrors of metal mining for electric vehicles despite roaring about EVs for years so rude awakening there.
What I hope to achieve from this newsletter is to push a more democratized sharing of climate information from folks on the ground could help build capacity for climate action here and in the region. As someone who’s been involved in environmental work since 2013 and more publicly in 2018, I recognize that the barriers to entry for sustainability can be high and the learning curve is forever steep. But I hope that this consolidation and sharing in a newsletter format can help to increase its accessibility.
As the ethos of Earth Day is really on collective climate action, I hope that this space would be a space for collective of Southeast Asian-based industry leaders, grassroots activists, academics and citizen experts to generate collective wisdom about what needs doing.
But besides subscribing, I hope I can also seek your help to share this with people who might enjoy this content or can contribute! More on that below.
Join this newsletter as a contributor!
I am but one person reading a ton of things, so this is going to be a newsletter with with a growing list of contributors and citizen experts to provide insight and learnings from folks working in all industries, reading and analyzing all sorts of things. If you’re working on climate change in whatever capacity, please come register your interest to be a contributor here, or recommend someone! More details in this form - https://tinyurl.com/FTTcontribute
Now, let’s get into this first newsletter…post? thing?
My first contributor, a dear friend and someone I really respect - Marc Allen from Engeco! I was so surprised at how game he was to write something for me in 24 (!) hours - because yes, I dropped him a text about this yesterday morning.
He told me that he wanted to talk about greenwashing and on this Earth Day, where I see so many brands and groups jumping on The Green Agenda (many for the first time), I thought that this is quite apt. Greenwashing is the act of promoting something (product or initiative) that is green when it’s not, or you overstate its “green” attributes when it’s actually, maybe not so fab. So how do you spot it and what do you do? From someone who has been working on tirelessly on climate change both professionally and privately, here’s what Marc has to say (and his choice of reads!)
What do you think of when you hear the term greenwashing? It seems like people almost instinctively know what greenwashing is but how do you define it. For me, I like to define it as when a company makes a claim about their environmental credentials that isn’t backed up by their overall actions – and by this, I mean their net impact as an organisation. It’s certainly not always done out of malice or done intentionally (though sometimes it might!) but there is sometimes a bit of a feeling that companies may choose to put more focus on the “good” things they do to distract from some of the not so good things that they do – or give those good things a lot more of their branding focus.
But how do you spot it? That’s the million-dollar question. The best way really is to be informed and get a view on the total impact of a company. Read sustainability reports and market disclosures critically. It’s a lot of work but can be quite eye-opening. There are online tools that can help with assessing company sustainability performance like Arabesque’s S-Ray (read it here at https://sray.arabesque.com) that rates over 8,000 companies on their ESG performance, support of the UN Global Compact and assigns a temperature score based on their climate change performance – all from public domain information.
Many countries, including Singapore, have laws around false advertising – that prevent companies from making false or misleading statements. Australia has gone one step further and actually called out green marketing claims as part of Australian Consumer Law (Green Marketing) – a really good document that can also help consumers identify where greenwashing might be occurring.
Some things that have really caught my interest lately that are greenwashing adjacent:
I’ve been catching up on videos by Climate Town - which are really well done and pretty funny to boot. The video on the origins of the concept of carbon footprints (which can be considered to be greenwashing once you’ve seen it) is a great start -
Michael Mann’s new book , The New Climate War (https://michaelmann.net/books/climate-war) is great, all about systemic change and vested interests.
It’s all about trust.
With those two recommendations, I thought to share a thought of my own in a post I created pre-Earth Day to catch folks before everything came in today.
Tackling greenwashing is not easy, be it as a consumer trying to make sense of the noise or from a company trying to communicate those things. I summarized some of the really great points on climate communications from Business of Social Responsibility where they give question prompts to think about before you talk about climate change and not risk greenwashing. This is a set of great information not just for corporate communicators, but also consumers. Here’s the actual graphic (3 swipes in).
Greenwashing doesn’t just hurt consumers, it hurts businesses too. My choice of reading is this piece “The true cost of green-washing: a society without trust” (link here) and I quote,
What is sustainability’s most valuable currency? It’s trust.
The trust in governments, institutions and organisations to present the truth about the enormous challenges we are facing. Both regarding the mounting climate crisis and the staggering loss of biodiversity.
We hear heaps of news on climate ambitions, net-zero targets and while they’re all good to some extent, the devil really is in the details and I reference this article written by Audrey Tan for the Straits Times.
To sum it up, Audrey says,
The plans were encouraging, but the devil is in the details.
Hence in making sense of climate news, readers have to be extremely discerning at this stage as to what “sustainability” means (which differs from organization to organization) and drill down to the details on how are we going to actually get to net-zero (especially for those who committed to net-zero targets) emissions.
This Earth Day, I hope that the real work of meaningful climate action doesn’t get lost in the deluge of green announcements. Earth Day isn’t all about trying to brand something as green as possible for a day. It is a day that is about climate action at a grassroots level, of collective learning and movement building through teach-ins, speaking out and taking real tangible action to lower our impact (check out the origin story here). May we not see massive amounts of greenwashing, but real meaningful action with honest communications. As we wade through climate commitments, actions and work from organizations, we are able to minimize the greenwashing and really work together (public, private and civil society) and collaborate on good climate work.
As we know, climate work does not end on Earth Day, but it can be a day of starts and firsts for many.
Well then for those folks, welcome to the movement!
! Bonus content, regenerate with nature virtually.
Warm regards, from the tropics.
P.S. - Ok, first piece out. It’s slightly ramble-y, but this newsletter is learning and evolving. My writing is also not the most precise, but again - learning and evolving. I really hope you join us on this journey as a reader or a contributor but I hope you share this with people who might love the contents to come.
I also want this to be a space to build networks of trust and accountability, and that this newsletter could be the start of honest climate communications that isn’t afraid to bring people together to share the difficulties of embarking on this work. If I made a erroneous comment, do feedback and I’ll ratify it as quickly as I can. If you have thoughts, please feel free to leave a comment. I’m still figuring a lot of things out not just in climate but on Substack so….I’m just going to have fun with this.