How big business is answering the question of profit vs planet

Ellen Thomas

19 February 2020

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We’re living in the age of the Impossible Burger, of activist brands like Patagonia and Lush. 

It’s an era of corporate transparency and eco-conscious supply chains. We’re doing our best to live intentionally, consume consciously, and the most determined of us have adopted a zero-waste lifestyle. More than ever, we are aware of how our purchasing decisions affect the environment. 

According to a recent Kantar survey, 36% of UK consumers would be prepared to pay a higher price when purchasing from retailers they deem to be ethical, and last year nearly half of consumers under the age of 24 admitted to avoiding a product or service due to its negative environmental impact.  

As a result of increased pressure from consumers, regulators, and the appeal of a long-term reduction in costs, companies are beginning to embrace sustainable, eco-friendly business practices. Over the past five years, 10% more companies have set carbon and water targets, and ten more stock exchanges have introduced an environmental listing requirement. 

Our fixation with phasing out fast fashion, and the current craze for clean beauty, has led many consumers to turn to apps like Good on You, Think Dirty, and CodeCheck to help them make more eco-friendly decisions. Startups like Shorebox and Unwrpd are making it even easier to live a zero-waste lifestyle by delivering plastic-free alternatives straight to your door. 

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The app CodeCheck lets users scan barcodes to find out whether a product is vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, lactose-free microbead free, etc. 

But the big question is, how are big businesses tackling this issue of profit vs. planet?

Waste not, want not

While most big businesses aren’t doing enough to combat climate change, Nike is continuing their commitment to holistic sustainability through initiatives like Nike Grind, the Nike Air Manufacturing Innovation facilities (which divert more than 95% of manufacturing waste from landfills), and through their partnership with the Climate Impact Lab. In collaboration with the Climate Impact Lab, Nike conducted research on the link between rising temperatures and performance in its Breaking2 project. Their conclusion? Tackling climate change today, means a better future for the elite athletes of tomorrow. 

We give everything to be a part of this sport. We have to adapt and think differently about our approach to playing if climate change continues down this path. We can’t take our environment for granted.

Odell Beckham Jr.

IKEA is another example of a climate positive corporation totally transforming the way that they work. They’ve converted their entire lighting range to energy-efficient LEDs, they’re in the process of phasing out all single-use plastics, and by 2030 they’ve made the commitment to only use renewable and recycled materials, and to reduce their carbon footprint by an average of 70% per product. 

They also sell a range of products aimed at helping the everyday consumer reduce their personal carbon footprint. For example, the MISTELN water nozzle – developed in collaboration with Altered – helps homeowners to slow the flow of their tap and reduce home water usage by up to 90%. 

Of course, not every big brand is moving in the right direction. Earlier this year, smart speaker giant Sonos outraged consumers after encouraging users to permanently deactivate their existing products, in exchange for a 30% discount on a newer device, rendering their old Sonos completely useless and difficult to recycle effectively. 

Worse still, some companies are benefiting from environmental virtue signalling without actually doing anything to positively impact society or the world around them.

Enter, greenwashing. 

All talk, no action

Greenwashing is the practice of making a misleading claim about the environmental benefits of a product or service. Many corporations greenwash in order to appear more eco-friendly than they actually are. Luckily, consumers are becoming smarter and more aware, and consequently more sceptical of brands claiming to be cruelty-free, eco-friendly, or all-natural. 

A recent example of possible greenwashing is H&M’s Conscious Collection, which is currently being investigated by Norway’s Consumer Authority. This new collection looks pretty eco-friendly on paper – you’ve got earth tones, you’ve got a diverse range of models running through fields of wheat. However, as CA director Elisabeth Lier Haugseth explained, “Based on the Norwegian website of H&M we found that the information given regarding sustainability was not sufficient…consumers should know if a garment is based on five per cent recycled material or 60 per cent.”

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Going green

Marketing is not an innocent industry. Aside from helping brands to promote products and services which have a negative impact on the environment, our industry tops the list for the least eco-friendly office environments – according to Metro Rod

At Good Rebels, we believe in human-centricity. We want to be a part of the solution, but to do this we need to be informed, and we need to be motivated to do good. 

Pro Carton’s Tony Hitchin sums it up best, “…we need to help marketers make more informed decisions to ensure that we don’t further damage our planet.” 

It’s not easy being green, but there’s a strong business case for it. Join forces with Good Rebels and help us, help you save the world – one eco-friendly initiative at a time.