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Can The Tail Wag The Dog For Corporate Responsibility?

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As the CEO of a pet care company learned, Innovative greening strategies can bring new value for doing well by doing good.

The collective corporate consciousness is building around global citizenship. According to data from Enviro-Lab and New Climate, the number of companies attempting to achieve net-zero carbon emissions doubled in 2020. Various science-based climate and nature initiatives, commitments, standards, disclosures and frameworks have made it easier for private sector companies to realize the important role they play in the earth’s ecosystem – a role that can reorient business operations, brand identity and profit motives.

Young consumers, who have the most at stake in a sustainable future, are leading the charge in demanding more from the companies they support. According to Capgemini’s World Wealth Report 2020 more than 40 percent of high net worth individuals younger than 40 are interested in sustainable investing. Sixty-two percent of Generation Z entering the workforce in 2020 prefer to buy from sustainable brands, on par with Millennials. As this “Gen Green” grows in influence, smart businesses will need to meet their sustainability expectations.

As much as the stars are aligning around impact investing and social good, sustainability is not a destination; it’s a purpose-driven journey where the path is not always clear. Some industries have more work to do than others. Take the $100B pet industry for example, which touches the lives of 67 percent of Americans. Nourishing our furry friends comes at a significant cost to the environment and many pet owners demand more effort be made in sustainable practices. The good news is that the pet industry has taken Labrador-sized leaps in green citizenship but there is still much work to be done.

Sustainability efforts can focus on the areas of greatest impact, but they can also zero in on the areas of greatest concern to your customers and stakeholders. Importantly, the plan must be realistic for your business and industry. There are a handful of actionable practices that can help a business in almost any sector grow sales and profits while carrying out a greener mission.

Bottom-Line It

Sustainable business goals can be measured as rigorously as revenue and EBITDA. But how do you assess one sustainability achievement or opportunity over another? Investors are increasingly considering ESG [Environmental, Social and Governance] metrics which measure corporate growth and success based on United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). SDGs give stakeholders a more accurate read of where a business stands in its growth and its resilience against environmental and workplace risk. 

As Morgan Stanley noted in their “ESG and the Sustainability of Competitive Advantage” report, “ESG factors are integral to assessing the quality of a company and thus are a vital part of our investment process.”

Thankfully, organizations like B Lab, which measures companies against the 17 SDGs, have assessment tools by which any company can benchmark itself—giving a bottom-line view of sustainability progress and identifying opportunities going forward.

For the pet industry, the Pet Sustainability Coalition utilizes B Lab tools for its accreditation program.

One shiny sustainability program won’t cut it. That’s like having one profitable product. As SDGs become more of the gold standard for measuring progress, it’s important to take a whole company approach to “bottom-line it”—so if you are not reporting holistically, now’s a great time to start.

Package Responsibly

A main environmental concern for many consumers is single-use plastics created from fossil fuels, which pack land-fills and pollute oceans. Plus, consumer confusion around what’s actually recyclable (and where to recycle it) results in non-recyclable items contaminating the recycling stream. Improving packaging is a long-haul effort requiring participation across companies and industries.

But there are ways to make an impact right away. One company helping businesses do this is rePurpose Global, a Certified B-Corp that applies a carbon offset model to plastics, creating the Certified Plastic Neutral designation. In short, the program pays women-run microbusinesses in India and China to divert and recycle one pound of plastic for each pound created by a company’s packaging.

In addition, immediate changes like reducing the amount of plastic in existing products or introducing post-consumer recycled content in packaging are great first steps.

Then, helping consumers understand the recyclability of your packaging by partnering with How2Recycle can provide guidance and reduce the amount of plastic that ends up in the waste stream.

Go Renewable

Converting your business operations to renewable energy is relatively simple to tackle and can make an immediate impact. Contact your electric company to convert—you’ll be surprised how cost effective it can be!

You can even convert your vendors and partners to green energy using Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) like those from Green-E to invest in the green economy, lower your carbon footprint, and inspire your consumers.

Carbon Offset Partnerships

After you do what you can to reduce your carbon footprint, you can achieve net zero goals with offsets that make a big difference for the environment. Companies like Natural Capital Partners (for a wide range of programs) and Nori (for regenerative agriculture), are good sources.

Even if you’re not ready to set a net-zero goal, you can begin today by choosing an area of your business to make carbon neutral, like transportation or warehousing, and work with a third party to measure, verify and assign appropriate reduction and offset strategies.

Get Certified (Don’t Greenwash!)

Increasingly, when a company makes environmental claims, stakeholders want proof!

Respected third party certifications are critical to test, measure and validate claims and certify that they meet environmental standards. You’ll ensure your claims are legitimate and help your customers understand what’s real and what’s not.

For example, rather than saying our seafood is sustainably sourced, we work with the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) to certify it. The same goes for other protein sourcing by partnering with the Global Animal Partnership (GAP) to certify the humane treatment of the proteins in our products. For many consumer packaged goods companies, working with How2Recycle to evaluate your packaging can help your customers understand exactly how to recycle (or importantly, not recycle) your product packaging.

One of the easiest ways to get started is to join with other companies on the same path to sustainability through the American Sustainable Business Council. Or join a group in your industry. Ours is the Pet Sustainability Coalition. There’s no need to go it alone.

So take it from the pet industry—if you invest in achieving and measuring against ESG goals, you’ll be on the path that’s outperforming the market, and inspiring the next generation of consumers.


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