Four of Britain’s biggest Nature charities join the fight against ‘Greenwashing’

Four of the nation’s largest conservation charities have joined forces to encourage responsible private investment in Nature recovery and to combat ‘corporate greenwashing’. James Fisher reports.

The Wildlife Trusts, the RSPB, the Woodland Trust and the National Trust have jointly published Nature Markets Principles, which they believe will combat a ‘lack of regulation’ for the emerging Nature markets. The markets are based on the sale of environmental ‘credits’, such as carbon credits, biodiversity units, nutrient credits and natural flood-management payments.

They are generated by schemes that ‘have the capacity to deliver multiple benefits for society and the environment’ and are a keen source of new income for rural communities and farmers.

However, the relative youth of these markets means that there is very little regulation, with several news stories in recent months questioning the validity of schemes such as carbon credits and offsetting. The charities say that ‘poor quality or low-ambition schemes could create a “wild west” that allows industries or businesses to greenwash’ and miss out on ways to maximise benefits for people and Nature.

The voluntary principles have been developed with Finance Earth and Federated Hermes, which manage the Government-backed UK Nature Impact Fund. This fund aims to stimulate ‘institutional investment at scale in high-quality Nature-restoration projects’. It has pledged to adopt the Nature Markets Principles and apply them across its activities in UK Nature markets.

‘Nature-based credit schemes present a real opportunity to restore Nature and create regeneration and prosperity in the countryside — if done in the right way,’ says Rob Stoneman, director of landscape recovery at the Wildlife Trusts.

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‘These principles send a firm message from some of the UK’s top deliverers of Nature-based solutions that we will only engage with the highest-integrity schemes. Buyers must stand up to scrutiny and truly contribute to Nature’s recovery in the UK, as well as benefiting local communities. We welcome businesses and others in this space to join us in upholding these principles.’

Among the principles are commitments to transparency, science-based Nature recovery, environmental and social safeguarding and verifiability. On the demand side, buyers will be screened and must prove that they are aligned with the transition to net zero and environmental improvement and protection, as well as following best practices.

Verifiability is a key issue, as it has been revealed in recent months that many large Nature-based credit schemes have proven to be misleading. In January, The Guardian reported that at least 90% of the forest carbon offsets used by firms such as Shell, Disney, Gucci and others were worthless and ‘do not represent genuine carbon reductions’.

‘Everyone involved in Nature conservation is alive to the risk of greenwash,’ says Alistair Maltby, director of estate and woodland outreach at the Woodland Trust.

‘The Nature Market Principles are an important step in tackling this. They ensure only projects that genuinely contribute to Nature’s recovery are included and only those businesses with a clear commitment to that objective can invest.

‘The principles set out the foundations for a high-integrity market and we want them to be adopted as widely as possible, to help to deliver the funding that is urgently needed to assist Nature’s recovery.’