As sustainability continues to become an important consideration for brands, particularly in areas like high fashion and hardware, sustainability reports have become increasingly popular. They show a brand’s dedication to transparency — that the brand understands it owes its customers and the general public honesty when it comes to its environmental footprint.
But sometimes good intentions don’t carry over to good PR, and that’s because either a company isn’t specific enough or is blatantly misleading. The scenario where brands try to sound more green than they actually are is often dubbed “greenwashing,” which often leads to boycotts these days. So how can brands better handle their sustainability PR? Here are four practical ways brands can approach making their sustainability initiatives more authentic.
1. Make specific and verifiable claims
Claims that are specific and verifiable are really easy to make if a brand actually cares about sustainability. Claims like “we’re dedicated to including recyclable materials in our products starting 2019” leave consumers with more questions than answers. They include:
- Which product lines will feature recyclable materials?
- What percentage of your products will be made from recyclable materials?
- Which recycled materials are being used?
Claims like these are verifiable but are too vague. To consumers, journalists, and pundits, they look lazy and disingenuous. That is, if a brand actually cares to elaborate, it would include specific metrics that could be easily tracked.
2. Reduce the timescale of your initiatives
The other mistake that brands often make is dragging their initiatives on for long timescales. For instance, let’s say a brand were to claim: “We will achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.” The brand may have amazing intentions, but if so, it should release smaller, easily-trackable milestones. Setting a goal for 30 years out leaves consumers in the dark.
Brands should, of course, prioritize being better citizens of the environment in their sustainability initiatives, but undeniably, they also use them to draw environmentally-conscious consumers in. If that’s the case, your consumers should have a way of holding you accountable for your promises … in their lifetimes. And that brings us to the next point.
3. Work with independent auditors to verify claims
With all the greenwashing going around, you shouldn’t expect your customers to trust everything you say. If you’re truly doing something sustainable, you should have no problem working with independent auditors to verify your claims. This way, when you share your data with the world, a third-party that has no incentive to promote misinformation has vetted it.
But that’s also why you have to work with independent auditors. Leaving no doubt in your consumers’ minds about your dedication to sustainability is how you build trust. Without trust, your sustainability initiatives are in vain, regardless of whether your intentions are true or misleading.
4. Publish annualized sustainability reports, including both successes and failures
And with the results comes a possibility of publishing them. Brands, too often, only publish data that helps their brand. Of course, that’s the common-sense way of doing things, but part of being honest is telling the whole story, not just the part that helps you.
If you’re missing your sustainability targets, it’s more genuine to let your customers know that you’re working hard to get back on track than hiding those statistics under the rug. This way, when you’re making substantial progress, your customers are going to be rooting for you. Your reports are going to be more about transparency than they are about making a sales pitch. And that’s what annualized reports are about anyway — transparency. That’s why you have to include your failures in them in order to truly achieve what you claim to be going for.
Note: Brands that have questions about how they can improve the messaging around their sustainability initiatives can reach out at email@example.com.
I am the Founder of Medius Ventures, the Publisher at The Rising, and a Contributor at Forbes, Business Insider, and Entrepreneur. At The Rising, I’m particularly interested in covering greentech startups and sustainability initiatives led by publicly-traded companies.
For pitches, we prefer that founders reach out directly, but we are often happy to hear from publicists too. The best email to pitch me for a story would be steven [at] mediusventures [dot] com.
Google Donates Money To Climate Denying Organizations
On September 22, 2014, an interviewer asked Google Chairman Eric Schmidt why Google was donating money to ALEC, a climate-denying company. Schmidt responded by saying, “I think the consensus within the company was that that was sort of a mistake. And so we’re trying to not do that in the future.” He then affirmed Google’s position on the issue, “And the facts of climate change are not in question anymore. Everyone understands climate change is occurring. And the people who oppose it are really hurting our children and our grandchildren and making the world a much worse place. And so we should not be aligned with such people.”
Today, Google continues to donate money to hundreds of organizations, some of which are known to have lobbied against climate change activism.
Google’s response to the allegations
The tech giant defended its contributions by saying that its collaboration with companies such as CEI and SPN does not mean that Google supports their agendas. Instead, the reason the collaborations are being made is because of Google’s support of technological innovations. These actions and the chairman’s words from five years ago clearly do not match up.
The aforementioned companies that Google collaborates with are notorious for lobbying against climate legislation. CEI was one of the main players in convincing President Trump to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement. Moreover, SPN recently created the “climate pledge” where they claimed that the world’s climate is actually getting better. These are just some of the companies that Google donates to.
Public opinion on the situation
Critics and environmental activists believe that it is contradictory for a company that openly supports action on global climate change to be donating money to these companies. Google has operated on 100% renewable energy for two years and had urged the White House to stay in the Paris Climate Agreement. It is for this reason that some believe that Google is only portraying an image of climate action. On the other hand, some believe that Google is donating to these companies to win them over and stop government regulation on technology.
Sheldon Whitehouse, a Democratic senator who is a major proponent to climate action, slammed Google. “It ought to be disqualifying to support what is primarily a phony climate-denying front group,” Whitehouse states. He then continues to say that companies should stop collaborating with those who deny climate change.
It is clear that most environmental activists and individuals see Google’s contradictions in a bad light. Actions that go against words will often lead to obscurity, and Google has made a purposeful commitment to being transparent with the public. Moreover, many believe that Google’s strides in climate action have been lessened by the companies collaborating with a large list of climate-denying organizations. Moving forward, Google might have to stop these donations to regain the trust and support of environmental activists.
Food Giant Danone Pushes to Restore Biodiversity
Danone Chief Executive Officer Emmanuel Faber and the leaders of 19 other companies including L’Oreal, Nestle, and Google have taken initiative to find ways to restore biodiversity in the world’s food systems. “In a nutshell, we have broken the cycle of life,” Faber states at the UN General Assembly. He continues, “And the missing link is the biodiversity in our fields.” Faber is among many other Big Food leaders that believe that there is a looming threat to the food systems that feed most of the world, and they are now ready to face the problem.
Why does Biodiversity matter?
Today, only nine plants account for over half of the world’s crop production. For years, these nine crops have fed the world. However, as populations grow, the biodiversity within these crops quickly dwindles. Due to the high utilization of artificially made pollinators, the plants have no need to adapt to different environments and changes. This comfortability can then result in monocultures, areas where only one crop is grown. This type of farming can be fatal to the productivity of agriculture.
Deadly organisms are more easily able to infect large areas of plant life due to the similarity of these crops. Biodiversity is needed to sustain, defend, and improve the production of agricultural plants. What’s being done to fix the problem?
One Planet Business for Biodiversity
Twenty companies have banded together to implement regenerative farming to heal the biodiversity problem. Regenerative farming strives to reverse the effects of climate change by rebuilding soil organic matter and restoring biodiversity. With a short term goal of identifying meaningful solutions that support regenerative farming. The group will strive to deter from the reliance of monocultures and will, in turn, create the groundwork for the much needed restoration for other fragile ecosystems.
The One Planet Business for Biodiversity, as they have named themselves, have already begun to strategize on different ways to achieve better biodiversity. Next year, they will reconvene at the UN Convention on Biodiversity to present their ideas.
For now, these companies plan to work closely with farmers to promote regenerative farming. Danone CEO Faber claims that “The missing link between the wild diversity and wildlife, and what we do every day, is what happens in the field.” Moreover, the incentivization of organic soil and pollinators over chemicals will be advanced. This group expects to reintroduce the biodiversity in crops by 2030.
It is clear that the increase of biodiversity will lead to a net positive for agricultural production and the health of many species, but how does this help the companies that take part in this initiative?
Today’s generation already gravitates to locally sourced food choices; people are more stringent on the types of foods they eat and where the food comes from. Furthermore, more science conscious CEOs have come forward in declaring their recognition of environmental issues. The investment of cleaner soil and pollination strategies put forth an incentive for people to purchase food and/or products from these companies.
For example, in March 2018, Danone’s North American operation launched a $6 million initiative. This initiative pushed for healthier soil, reduced chemicals, and the promotion of biodiversity. While this initiative did provide food systems with extra sustainability, it also caught the attention of other companies such as Ohio’s MVP Dairy to work with Danone in creating more sustainable foods.
The creation of One Planet Business for Biodiversity is one step towards reaching the challenging goal of reworking our food systems. If done efficiently, the production of food systems around the world can be cultivated in a healthier manner and provide benefits for both plant life and humans.
Unilever Reimagines The Future of Plastic Packaging
While the world continues to ban the production of single-use plastics, many large companies fail to recognize other leading producers of plastic pollution. Unfortunately, most brand-name companies continue to package merchandise in newly-created plastics. Over time, the plastics accumulate. With only 9% of all circulating plastics being recycled, the remaining billions of tons of plastics to be left in fragile ecosystems or improperly disposed of in landfills. And, with companies still to use these new plastics for packaging purposes, the problem only continues to exist. However, one company recently took a stand. Unilever, the maker of Ben and Jerry’s, Dove, Lipton and more, announced its commitment to going green.
By 2025, Unilever has promised to try and accomplish the following:
- Halve the amount of virgin plastic it uses in packaging
- Help collect and process more plastic packaging than it sells
What is the company doing?
As a parent company to over 400 brands, Unilever currently uses over 700,000 tons of plastic annually. In order to away from single-use plastic, the company’s new tactics incorporate a “less plastic, better plastic, and no plastic” way of thinking. During its journey to cut their plastic usage in half, the consumer goods giant will begin to offer a wider variety of reusable, refillable, and recyclable packaging. As a result, their strategy brings to the table several innovative alternatives to common virgin plastic packaging. Some of which are already implemented in Unilever’s green production line.
- Unilever incorporated MuCell™ technology its Dove hand wash bottles to avoid using an excess of 304 tons of plastic.
- Unilever put up a three-liter bottle of Omo laundry detergent on the market in Brazil. The detergent’s formula was dilutable in order to reduce the volume of plastic by 75%.
- Unilever opened up a facility that uses breakthrough chemical processes (CreasSolve®) in order to recycle sachets into safe, reusable, and high-quality polymers. The company began its research in this field in 2011.
In January 2019
- Unilever announced its participation in Loop™, an innovative waste-free shopping and delivery model for reusable packaging innovations and refillable product formats
In September 2019
- Sainsbury started an initiative to use returnable glass bottles to sell milk and carbonated beverages.
A Realistic Model for Plastic Use
While plastic is heavily incorporated into modern-day lifestyles, the truth is that a “no plastic” world is difficult to achieve. However, Unilever is taking on a realistic vision for the future.
In a statement with Unilever’s chief executive, Alan Jope, he notes that “Plastic has its place but that place is not in the environment”. Touching base on the company’s future progress in sustainability, Jope states that “[Unilever’s] starting point has to be design, reducing the amount of plastic we use, and then making sure that what we do use increasingly comes from recycled sources”. Refreshingly, Unilever’s actions continue to match their words.
Adopting Circular Thinking
During its process of going green, Unilever altered its production strategy to incorporate circular thinking. As a result, the company continuously takes strides in creating a circular economy for plastic recycling. By utilizing such an economical system, the company will be able to mitigate waste and pollution production. Instead, it will strive to keep products and materials in use, as well as regenerating natural systems.
However, Unilever must focus on several different interdependent areas in order to do so. Working at such a diverse level, the company incorporates initiatives ranging from politics to infrastructure design. On the political side, Unilever is working with governments in order to create an environment that can enable the creation and use of a circular economy. At the same time, the company is exploring new business models to capitalize on economical trends.
As one of the leading causes of plastic pollution, packaging continues to accumulate in landfills at an alarming rate. Fortunately, Unilever’s commitment to going green is yielding inspiring results such as preventing the use of billions of tons of unneeded plastics.
However, the company knows it cannot finish the battle against plastic pollution alone. Instead, it believes that other companies should take initiative in order to create the systemic change needed to catalyze a circular economy. Whether advocating for more companies to engage in policy discussions with governments or to invest in innovation, Unilever continuously shows unwavering dedication.
Hopefully, others will look up to Unilever and follow their lead.
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