Instead of being rivals, two forces of different sizes can partner to overcome a common global adversary together, instead of greenwashing.

You have probably heard it a thousand times: big corporations proclaiming their commitment to sustainability, yet all you have seen are mostly generic CSR initiatives and reports that serve merely as branding tools.

In fact, this so-called “greenwashing” has become such a big issue that the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) considers it to be the weakest link in the growth of sustainable finance.

At the recent COP26 global climate summit, an international standards body—The International Sustainability Standards Board (ISSB)—was launched to establish global norms for climate-related corporate claims from 2022 onwards.

While the consequences of greenwashing have been fervently discussed in public discourse, why is it still happening, in spite of the increased scrutiny?

This is not without reason. For large organizations, their size often means that real change comes at a much larger cost, as they are also accountable to their stakeholders and investors.

With this in mind, how can corporations move forward in making real, sustainable changes to their business operations and achieve their ambitious commitments towards a better future?

Startups: the next step forward

While larger organizations can be held back by limitations due to their size, startups are usually unhindered by these obstacles and are thus free to innovate and create the solutions needed for tangible progress.

Startups serve as the catalyst not just for innovation, but to equip and push corporate giants towards fulfilling climate change commitments.

Moreover, startups can provide the capabilities, solutions and domain expertise needed for increased operational flexibility and resilience, which has proved to be pivotal for survival and growth during these uncertain times.

There is also a mutually beneficial partnership for startups and corporations: startups gain access to the latter’s immense resources and infrastructure needed for rapid growth to realize their solutions in the market through pilot opportunities, while corporations gain a competitive edge, adjust their business to consumers, and expand their portfolio and entry into new industries and markets.

Not just a theory

When the two groups of stakeholders come under one platform, industry leaders within large corporations can partner to co-create new solutions for the market, invest capital into emerging high-potential startups, and achieving the goals in their individual sustainability roadmap.

Take for instance materials science leader Dow, which partnered with startups such as Continuus Materials, Byfusion, and Empower to divert over 1m tons of plastic waste to be collected, reused, and recycled into over 30 tons of building material, 5m square feet of roof covers, and more. This is by no means a small feat for the group to achieve over a short period of a few months.

We also saw a huge impact achieved through the End Plastic Waste Innovation Platform which launched in early 2020 in partnership with The Alliance to End Plastic Waste (AEPW).

More than 100 pilot engagements have since been forged, with several case studies made public between startups introduced through the program and AEPW and its members. One case study that drove high impact was related to a project between AEPW and a startup called Litterati. The two parties partnered up to run a global cleanup campaign where almost 3,000 individuals across 73 countries picked up 768,673 pieces of trash in less than a month.

With the proper innovation ecosystem in place, and relevant experts to evaluate technological advancements, startups can be connected with suitable corporations that share the same vision to ensure mutually beneficial collaborations.

When it comes to effecting real change in the fight for our planet’s future, it can be a much easier journey for corporations looking to ‘walk the talk’ when there is a genuine interest to collaborate and to make the right connections.