As a general matter, I cannot say that sustainability is more about public relations than social responsibility for corporate houses, although I recognize that there may be some organizations who simply do not understand what sustainability is all about. If it is being done right, sustainability should certainly not be more about public relations than social responsibility. My definition of choice for sustainability is being able to do whatever it is you may be doing now, without endangering the ability of future generations to do the same. And if a company is doing things only for PR purposes, then that in itself is not sustainable. In this information-age that we live in, one simply cannot keep up pretenses for long, so any attempt at green-washing is just misguided, because the company will be found out, and it will suffer as a result.

In fact, not only is green-washing wrong from a moral perspective, it is also bad from a business perspective. With the kind of professional and social media attention that has become the norm these days, there is no way for companies attempting to fool their stakeholders to get away with it for long. And once the practice is exposed, the reputational damage to the organization can be quite serious. So its just not worth indulging in green-washing.

Contrary to calls from some quarters, legislature may not actually help in eradicating green-washing. There are already a whole slew of local and international laws that regulate various aspects involving sustainability. I generally dont consider turning to legislation as a suitable solution for such issues. For starters, since sustainability is such a broad topic and encompasses so many facets, it would be quite impractical to try and develop an international law that would adequately cover things. More importantly, laws work best when they are tailored to the needs they are addressing, and the fact is that the sustainability needs that require addressing will vary significantly from location to location, making an international law quite untenable. And finally, even laws that are more or less tailored always suffer from the fact that they, of necessity, have to be fairly broad in their scope and so cannot address every unique situation, which often results in the kinds of unintended consequences we are seeing with the laws that currently are attempting to regulate this arena. In general, if a particular activity is deemed desirable, it is far better to try and create appropriate incentives to encourage it, rather than to try and force it upon the populace through a legal mandate. The latter path will often encounter resistance and breed all sorts of ancillary concerns, such as enforcement issues, while the former path will lead to far smoother uptake of the activity and will, if done right, be self-perpetuating, and, thereby, much more sustainable.

Today, media coverage related to corporate ethics has never been more pronounced. Around the world both mainstream and social media outlets have really focused the spotlight on all kinds of unethical corporate behavior and driven the level of awareness around such issues to incredibly new heights. However, what Id like to see a little more of going forward is more media attention being paid to highlighting examples of good behavior, rather than concentrating solely on berating bad behavior. Rewarding good behavior with favorable coverage is likely to be much more effective in the long run in encouraging that kind of desirable approaches than simply lambasting cases of bad behavior.

 Between the social and professional media coverage of this issue, consumer awareness is at its highest, and still rising. As somebody who believes more in the carrot than the stick, I would say that the best way to increase awareness further is to highlight instances of good behavior and reward those companies engaged in it. This way, good examples can be set for others to follow, and the bar can be raised progressively higher and higher.

It is tough to say if this problem is more rampant in a particular geographical location or amongst a particular age group of people, as there are likely going to be good and bad examples in any kind of subcategory you may pick. Whether in terms of activity or in terms of awareness, the level in any grouping, be it geographic or by age, will be a function of information and incentive; ie, how much they know and understand about compliance, and how they are motivated to act upon that knowledge and understanding. It is the absence of one or both of those that will determine how rampant the problem is.

This is not a prospect with a defined end, and so there is no way to identify a point at which victory, so to speak, can be declared. Supply chains are constantly evolving and it is impossible to look at an entire supply chain in a static way in order to be able to declare it genuinely sustainable. The truth is that, as things stand, most of the conversations around sustainability focus largely on environmental issues. But a supply chain isn't defined merely by its impact on our planet, and sustainability is not simply an exercise in pollution control. A truly sustainable supply chain will have to take into account social, economic as well as environmental impacts, and do so in the dynamic setting of modern business life. That means it will remain an ever-changing phenomenon, with no end and, therefore, no definition of the length of time to get there.

Avedis Seferian is the President and CEO of WRAP Compliance