The case for corporate sustainability is mounting. An ever-increasing number of organisations are starting to step up and make changes when it comes to the environmental impact that their activities create. This is not just good news for the planet – increasingly, it’s becoming essential for the progression and success of businesses.
Customers, employees, investors and stakeholders alike are all looking for greener businesses putting sustainability front and centre, to support, work for and promote. With corporate carbon taxes only set to increase, and organising for sustainability being shown to actively improve bottom lines, the stage is set for acceleration in this field.
In this article, we’ll explore some of the developments and issues around the communication of corporate sustainability – as well as investigating some of the ways in which businesses can avoid common pitfalls, and take action to put best practices in place.
Corporate Sustainability: Is The Tide Turning?
Within the world of sustainable business, we seem to be approaching something of a crossroads. For years now, the benefits of being perceived as a “greener” organisation have been acknowledged. A recent study suggests that as much as a third of global customers are willing to pay more for sustainable products. As a result, the desire to be known as a business that takes sustainability seriously has, in some cases, overtaken the desire to be a business that truly places these values at its heart.
This has led to the practice of “greenwashing” – a label applied to the practice of making highly publicised, but ultimately token, gestures towards sustainability, without fully addressing the overall impact of a business. In many cases, the marketing claims made by companies in this regard are unsubstantiated, and at worst, may be actively deceptive. Essentially, more is spent on the marketing campaign than on the green initiative itself.
A good example of this is H&M’s World Recycle Week scheme, which saw customers invited to drop off their old clothes so that the business could use them to create new textile fibre. Customers would be rewarded with H&M vouchers for taking part in the scheme. However, once critics started crunching numbers, nothing added up. It was estimated that it would take 12 years for H&M to use up 1,000 tons of fashion waste – a clothing brand of this size creates this amount of new clothing in just 48hrs. The voucher scheme also came under attack, as it would inevitably encourage more purchases and overconsumption.
In these circumstances, nobody wins. The business in question risks reputational damage, and public trust in sustainability claims more generally is also eroded over time. However, we may be reaching a tipping point. Not only are consumers waking up to the telltale signs of greenwashing, and calling it out with more confidence and frequency, we’re also seeing regulatory authorities starting to shine more of a spotlight on the practice.
Businesses are increasingly being held accountable for misleading claims. In the UK, the newly launched Green Claims Code (from the Competition and Marketing Authority) appears to be sending a strong signal that a stricter approach will be taken to greenwashing in the future. We’re also seeing some high profile prosecutions as a result of greenwashing. At the start of 2020, Italian oil company, Eni. became the first in the country to be prosecuted for greenwashing. They were fined €5 million (US$5.94 million) for claiming that their palm oil-based diesel was ‘green’ in a promotional campaign.
What Do These Shifts Mean For Business?
Does an increasing level of scrutiny into the validity of your sustainability claims mean that your business should be discouraged from trying to do better for the environment? Far from it. If anything, now that the pressure on greenwashers is increasing, the spotlight can shine more brightly on those brands and businesses with a genuine and well-considered approach to running a greener operation.
Transparency is about to become an incredibly important factor when it comes to the sustainability goals that businesses create. It’s time to set clear goals and be specific about your intentions and programs that you’re following when it comes to pushing for greater sustainability. It's never been more important to fact check and follow best practices.
ESG criteria have a big role to play in achieving this. While ESG (“environmental, social and governance”) based policies can cover a broader range of issues than environment alone, they represent a more stakeholder-centric approach to doing business, and essentially set out a framework whereby a wider range of upheld standards ensure a business conducts itself more ethically.
While internal ESG goals are a dependable way to see distinct improvement and apply structure to progression within sustainability, it might also prove helpful to explore some of the recognised accreditation that can be sought, for example, working towards becoming a certified B Corporation (a process which many KindLink customers have made easier by using our platform to help record their necessary data.) A wiser general public means higher scrutiny, and having the ability to show a wide range of externally assessed credentials can be very helpful in this respect.
Proving Your Sustainability Credentials – Why Is This So Important?
Sustainability still matters - to your business’ reputation, to your workforce and to your customers. As we’ve already discussed, transparent communication and accountability will be key in establishing ongoing trust and support. A big contributor towards your success here will be in the way that you’re able to conduct tracking and reporting of your progress and achievements.
Increasingly important to have a clear way of achieving this. Claims must be backed up with data – it’s important to be able to communicate clear progress towards defined goals. A great case study here comes from the mining company, Vale.
A quick exploration of their dedicated ESG site shows a well thought through and fully holistic approach to this area of their business. They demonstrate fantastic clarity, with clearly tracked targets and actual results, and they don’t shy away from clear, direct answers addressing controversial aspects of their business. They also show fantastic clarity when it comes to reporting around atmospheric emissions, something which all businesses can (and should) start to factor into their own reporting.
Understanding The United Nations’ SDGs
Since 2015, the United Nations have adopted global goals which aim to help people the world over pull together to “end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity.” Known as the Sustainable Development Goals or SDGs, these guiding principles can provide a fantastic framework for businesses looking to create their own internal ESG strategy.
They can also provide valuable insight into the way that ESG strategies are playing out, offering a framework for evaluating and disclosing the ESG related impacts of certain areas of business, as in this example, where AI is examined.
Companies wishing to advance the SDG agenda are encouraged to incorporate the Ten Principles of the UN Global Compact widely into their ESG strategies and operations, and understand “that good practices or innovation in one area cannot make up for doing harm in another.” Once again, we see the importance of a fully holistic approach to creating a more sustainable business model.
Get Straight On Corporate Sustainability With KindLink
As this article has highlighted, transparency and clear communication of sustainability goals are essential aspects of any strong modern policy. Wherever a clear need arises within the world of business, technological assistance is never far behind, and today, innovative new ways of recording, displaying and promoting progress within sustainability goals are available.
KindLink offers an intuitive and highly functional sustainability platform on which to measure, share and celebrate your ESG and SDG progress. Share any kind of impact data – from emissions saved through to water collect through your offices’ new rain harvesting systems. Not only will you unlock an easier way of tracking and recording your improvements, you’ll also be able to report back to stakeholders with clarity and ease.
This improved ability to measure your impact can also prove invaluable when working towards external accreditations, such as B Corporation status, showing clear progression and targets achieved. KindLink can even help your business record and report on the UN’s SDGs, keeping social responsibility at the core of your company’s development by ensuring stakeholders see tangible progress and improvement.
Corporate Sustainability: The Future’s Bright
When it comes to the future of corporate sustainability, it’s important to remain mindful of the significant opportunities at stake. Yes, public scrutiny and compliance requirements are higher, but this means more positive attention for the businesses working hard to do the right thing.
Work with KindLink’s innovative sustainability reporting platform, to help communicate the effort you’re putting in when it comes to sustainability, and to help keep you on the path of progress. Spend less time drowning in spreadsheets and more advancing your internal sustainability agendas, as you enthuse your employees and engage your stakeholders and investors with the story of your positive progress – for people and for planet.