In March 2010, I wrote my first TriplePundit article on a bicycling delivery service in Paris that no longer exists. Since then, I have learned a lot, and at the same time it’s been gratifying to watch more businesses come on board and take the lead on sustainable development, environmental protection and human rights.
Now, 2,000 articles later, of course there is still a lot of work to be done. No business is perfect; nor will they ever be. But over seven years and a million-plus words later - not to mention all the interviews I have conducted - I have a strong idea who leads when it comes to sustainable business. In my experience, this list includes organizations that stand out. That is not to say their records are perfect, and of course there are other companies that do fantastic work. But time after time, these organizations remind me over and over again what sustainable business, and leadership, are all about.
Campbell Soup Company: While many companies still dig in their heels on environmental and social issues, Campbell’s has been quick to take the bull by the horns. Companies that seek to not only become more responsible, but to follow this journey well and communicate their goals more than just “effectively,” should look to Campbell’s as a case study on how to get there. The company has addressed a wide range of challenges, from GMOs to the fallout over what happened in Charlottesville; and meanwhile its nimble sustainability team engages customers and stakeholders along the way. Of course, Campbell’s also benefits from having Dave Stangis, its Vice President of Corporate Responsibility and Chief Sustainability Officer, on board. Stangis, who reports directly to the company’s CEO, has long been a thought leader and mentor in this field.
Costco: I’m often asked, “Where do you shop?” and the expected answer is usually Whole Foods or the random health food store in town. When I answer with “Costco,” jaws usually drop, so I quickly explain why: the social pillar of sustainability is often overlooked by many in this space. And while I support programs like fair trade and supplier transparency efforts to improve lives of people overseas, I also believe change needs to occur simultaneously at home. Costco pays its employees better than almost any other retailer, its health care benefits are generous and its local supplier outreach program has won me over.
Environmental Defense Fund: I have always believed that if we want businesses to be part of, and even now lead, this sustainability movement, they need to be engaged, not badgered. So when I am emailed a pitch from someone that says, “My client is partnering with an NGO on this issue, an innovative collaboration in this industry,” my response is often this:
“Well that’s nice, but remember EDF has long been partnering with some of the world’s leading companies, and they’ve been doing this since before you were born.”
Whether its experts’ research on the water-energy nexus, the environment’s relationship with public health, supply chain, or renewable power challenges, this NGO boasts some of the smartest people within their ranks. Meanwhile, EDF’s Climate Corps program is grooming the next generation of sustainability professionals. In addition, this organization’s work with companies on their supply chains often goes under the radar – but it deserves far more attention because this is where some of the hardest, and most transformative work – is underway.
Marks and Spencer: In the retail and apparel sector, I view the United Kingdom-based department store chain M&S as a trailblazer. Before many garment and retail companies took on the problems of human rights and environmental degradation in their supply chains, M&S resolved to become more transparent and lead on sustainable sourcing. The company was one of the first apparel chains to launch a clothing recycling initiative; in the meantime, it has strived to ensure that more of its products, from food items to business suits, are genuinely “sustainable.”
Method: A generation ago, before the word “sustainable” was even in the lexicon, “alternative” products were often dowdy, overpriced and lagged on performance. When it came to cleaning products, however, conventional options were generally noxious, smelled horrid and were in ugly bottles. Method toppled that thinking. Their plant-based surface cleansers work well, the bottles look great, and are priced competitively at retailers like Target. I can guarantee that I would not be as manic cleaning surfaces the way I am now if Method were not around; and I don’t mind that their color-block bottles are scattered around my home. Plus who would not want to work within their off-beat, quirky culture – even after they were acquired by Ecover and recently, SC Johnson?
Union of Concerned Scientists: I believe in science, and I definitely believe in this organization. Whether its leaders smack down efforts to make climate denial mainstream, or hold companies responsible for the impacts their meat or palm oil supply chains have on people and the planet, UCS is a counterweight to companies who say one thing publicly but behave otherwise - and at the same time, their researchers and scientists make their cases forcefully and eloquently.
Honorable mention: I have long had mixed feelings about Walmart (a Google search for Walmart and my name will find my analysis all over the map) but their investments in supply chain sustainability and renewables cannot be overlooked; and what is important about their actions is that it nudges their competitors to do the same, which is only a benefit for the planet. Ditto for Ikea, which has been a huge investor in renewables. General Motors and Ford are worthy of a shout-out for their interesting work within local communities and on the development of sustainable materials. Finally, apparel companies such as Nike and Adidas are doing their part to do a better job sourcing recycled materials or more responsible cotton.
Image credit: Marks and Spencer