Business Development

Why sustainability must be about action – not just words

Debbie Shakespeare | 15 February 2022 | 2 years ago

sustainability

From comedian Joe Lycett’s recent programme exposing Shell’s greenwashing, to Greta Thunberg’s ‘blah blah blah’ mantra at COP26, businesses are being lampooned for ‘talking and not doing’ when it comes to sustainability.

This simply isn’t good enough when you consider three quarters of adults in Great Britain worry about climate change, according to the Office for National Statistics’ Opinions and Lifestyle Survey, conducted in October 2021. Acutely aware of the situation the planet faces, consumers don’t want to feel hoodwinked by promises about green practices that actually have no real benefit to the environment. They want to see evidence that meaningful change is taking place in the companies they choose to deal with on a day-to-day basis.

Goal-setting, not greenwashing

Sustainable business is about setting goals and recording and reporting progress as transparently as possible. It’s also about having credible and honest discussions.

What’s becoming evident is that the corporate world must produce verifiable proof that they are making the necessary changes to address their carbon emissions and waste. For instance, at Avery Dennison, the company’s emissions reductions targets have just been approved by the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi), showing true commitment to sustainability. We’ve worked towards this approval, conscious that as a business we need to be measured on our targets. Acknowledgment by the SBTi gives us confidence that we are setting ambitious scopes 1, 2 and 3 GHG emissions reduction targets, as we join with other global industry leaders to move the needle towards a future of net-zero emissions.

Naturally change takes time, and it’s also important to have candid discussions with stakeholders and customers about what is going to be possible. As part of Avery Dennison’s ESG agenda, we have cut greenhouse gas emissions by 42%, from the 2015 baseline, and achieved 92% certified paper use. Our overall ambition is to have net-zero emissions by 2050, and much of our product innovation is focused on finding solutions that will help industries, like fashion, operate in more sustainable ways, embracing the circular economy. But we are mindful to communicate this is work in progress, and we have by no means cracked the sustainability challenge just yet.

Reassure customers with transparency and data

Data has a critical role to play in helping businesses communicate effectively about the positive steps they are taking. Platitudes about “green materials” or “cutting carbon” are not enough to appease today’s savvy shopper or business client. The majority of customers are now looking for concrete information on what progress is being made to reduce environmental footprints, so they can make the right purchasing decisions.

By providing as much valid information as possible to consumers, investors and increasingly, regulators, brands can earn trust, loyalty and corporate credibility. The challenge is measuring the actual impact of reaching targets: how much water will be saved; how much C02 will be cut; how many garments will be recycled?

Speaking at the COP26 climate summit, Chancellor Rishi Sunak claimed the UK was leading the world in becoming the “first-ever net zero aligned global financial centre”. His vision is for “more consistent climate data; sovereign green bonds; mandatory sustainability disclosures; proper climate risk surveillance; and proper global reporting standards”.

Global standards have yet to be agreed, but there are industry frameworks, such as ISO for quality, and FSC for paper certification. By joining the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) retailers, and suppliers make a public commitment to tackle issues such as poor working conditions and child labour in supply chains. Member companies report biennially on their efforts and the results they are achieving at farm or factory level.

Smart IDs set the circular economy in motion

Consumers want to engage with brands like this that operate ethically in every step of their supply chain. Increasingly this will require investment in ESG reporting software, and full understanding of mandatory reporting frameworks. Business leaders going forward will need a strong voice, a realistic outlook, and the energy to challenge their colleagues to make change happen.

Innovation will play its part too, reshaping how things get done. For instance, technology is already starting to power end-to-end solutions to the fashion industry, helping shoppers, retailers and recyclers unlock the potential of a circular fashion economy.

At Avery Dennison, we believe digital triggers – for instance QR codes on care labels – hold the key to enable apparel retailers to keep track of their carbon-reducing progress via data that is accessible throughout the item’s lifecycle. Acting as a gateway, the triggers link to apps, and allow consumers to check garment history, composition, and hold information on how to recycle items. Garment recyclers can verify composition which is essential for their processes, while resellers will be able to confirm authenticity. With QR codes on intelligent care labels, brands can also track the volumes of inventory going back into the circular economy, and monitor how effectively they are reducing their carbon impact.

Compulsory carbon reporting is coming

Legally binding ESG pressures are imminent. In July 2021, France’s parliament approved an expansive climate bill that will introduce mandatory “carbon labels” for goods and services, including clothing and textiles, as part of an effort to inform consumers about the environmental impact of their purchases. It’s only a matter of time before other governments take similar legislative steps.

Clearly, the next few years are going to be critical, and companies of all sizes have a vital role to play in helping achieve transformation at the pace and scale needed. My view is that gathering the right data, and using it wisely will sort the winners from losers in the sustainability stakes from now on. After all, if you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.

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