By Velina Serafimov
Chief Impact Officer
Let Me Introduce You to This Topic...
I was studying business administration with the idea of becoming a “classic” business professional, with a focus on accounting or finance. I had a sustainability class back then and I thought it was a joke, as the topics of environmental and social issues were so superficially covered. It was early days of CSR and it was not inspiring. I swore to myself I’d never be a “sustainability professional”! Wisdom came later and I learned that I should never say never... I became a financial auditor and already then, it struck me how the topics such as restoration of mining sites or opinions of impacted local communities were considered or how a lack of diversity in the employees influenced the outputs of a company. The more I worked in different companies, the less at ease I was with the negative impacts they created. For my thesis, I validated the hypothesis that companies do not have a sustainability strategy for the sake of good but because of regulation; and, how much impact they can have (positive or negative) because of their size and weight in our daily life. The blurriness of their reporting was appalling, due to of a lack of knowledge but mainly because of a lack ok intentionality to do better.
This is where I knew that I wanted to work in this field: it took us centuries to get to the financial accounting regulations of today (far from being perfect), so the potential for sustainability was unlimited, all was yet to be created.
Craig's Reading List
To become an expert greenwashing buster, you need to get your basics straight. All actions, conscious or not, to disrespect the principles of impact, is greenwashing.
The Impact Management Project has beautifully de-jargonized those principles. It is the most advanced initiative for standardization of impact across all sectors, applicable to the whole spectrum of impact (positive AND negative) from impact project holders as small as local NGOs, to big corporates and ESG asset management firms. The plus: the incredible database of case studies, including ours, about ESG and CSR limits, which are often used to a greenwashing end : https://casestudy.impak.eco/en/.
In the context of investment specifically, The Good Investor is a guide which unwinds all the steps of a classic investment process, in which best practices to become an impact investor are explained and illustrated. If you analyze an investment process and find out that it does not fit with the practices in the book, there is a chance that it results in greenwashing. The end of the book is a perfect summary of classic impact assessment theory with the explanation of a Theory of Change, which is a must to debunk impact assumptions.
When it comes to greenwashing, I sometimes feel like an investigator trying to separate meaningful, truthful, precise, consistent, significant, exhaustive and relevant information from what’s not, and what inspires me, is investigative journalism. I enjoy reading reports such as the following to learn about the misfunctioning of a specific sector, an then compare it to how the company disclosed information about it: https://newint.org/features/web-exclusive/2017/04/13/inside-unilever-sustainability-myth
The bigger picture:
I’d like to open the discussion on the risks of impunity when it comes to greenwashing practices, by introducing a book explaining how our economic and political decisions, as well as our human nature, and developed world society has led us to an inextricable situation, with a climate crisis growing by the day. Of course, companies with greenwashing are not the sole responsible, but they have a significant role to play in shaping the future of the living. It is in French but expected to be translated soon thanks to its success.
About the Author
Velina has been involved with impak Finance since 2017 for the development of its impact rating methodology and offer, as well as the supervision of the impact analysis team.
Velina started her sustainability career as advising companies in the establishment of their CSR strategies and verification of their extra-financial results. As a member of Deloitte Sustainability Services team in Paris, among several other international mandates, she carried out the extra-financial audit of four responsible investment funds of AXA IM, who were first to make these types of audit results public.
Her specialization in impact measurement materialized with her implication in a community development NGO in South India in 2014 by designing the impact strategy and measurement framework of the project.
From London, Velina then worked in parallel for the Fairtrade initiative as an accredited auditor and for Investing for Good (IFG), a leading impact investing intermediary and an impact consulting firm. At IFG, she led impact evaluations and consulting projects to design and implement impact management frameworks and processes for social businesses, NGOs and investment funds, before crossing path with Impak Finance and moving to Montreal.