Over the weekend, a sustainability-focused Wall Street Journal article started making the rounds on social media. In it, business columnist John D. Stoll notes that several top companies are starting to pump the brakes on their environmental, social and governance (ESG) programs due to economic strain amidst the coronavirus pandemic. And he poses the question: Will the pandemic, like economic crises before it, put sustainability on the back burner?
It's undeniably true that companies are cutting costs in the face of financial strain, and given that we're all on information overload, it's understandable to assume ESG cutbacks are happening across the board. But we at TriplePundit have a slightly different vantage point: Since we report on these topics daily, people love sharing their sustainability news with us — and, overall, the drumbeat of these announcements has remained relatively steady through the pandemic.
Right now we're all understandably consumed with the human suffering and economic strain posed by the pandemic. Business leaders are worried for their families, wondering how they'll maintain their payrolls, and grappling with how best to respond to this new global challenge we face. But we're not convinced we'll see a sunsetting of sustainability — and these eight examples are just some of the reasons why.
General Mills committed to a set of science-based emissions targets ahead of the COP21 climate talks in 2015, where world leaders drafted the landmark Paris climate agreement. The company was among the first to have its plan approved by the Science-Based Targets initiative (SBTi) — indicating its goal to reduce value chain emissions by 28 percent by 2025 aligns with the global effort to limit temperature rise to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius.
In late April, General Mills took its climate action journey a step further, pledging to source 100 percent renewable electricity by 2030 and join the RE100 corporate clean power initiative. The company says it will invest in renewable energy projects across its supply chain — including two large-scale wind farms which will produce renewable energy credits (RECs) and methane capture for power generation at supplier farms — to meet the goal.
Danone was another major multinational to issue new climate pledges during the COP21 talks in 2015. The French food products firm pledged to be certified carbon neutral across all of its operations by 2050 — and its flagship spring water brand, Evian, was to lead the charge.
We first reported on Evian's carbon neutrality journey two years later, in 2017, when the brand unveiled its revamped bottling plant in the French Alps that was certified carbon neutral by the Carbon Trust. Since then, Evian has achieved carbon neutrality certification for its operations in the U.S., Canada, Germany and Switzerland. And on April 20, it went global, inking carbon neutral certification across all the countries where it has a presence. It's a milestone in the journey, but it's far from the end of the road, as Global Brand VP Shweta Harit says Evian is looking forward to announcing "new initiatives later this year."
Since the SBTi launched in 2015, the number of companies with approved targets has grown exponentially: 873 companies are now taking science-based climate action in collaboration with the initiative, and 363 have approved science-based targets on the books.
Ball Corp., which manufactures metal packaging and provides aerospace technologies and services, is among the latest to join the roster. The company's commitment to reduce absolute carbon emissions within its own operations by 55 percent and within its value chain by 16 percent by 2030, using 2017 as a baseline, were approved by SBTi last month.
Over the past year, TriplePundit has tracked HP’s use of plastic recovered from ecosystems and waterways before it can reach the ocean. From its June release of the world's first computer monitor made with ocean-bound plastics to the first PC built with these materials announced three months later, the tech giant has steadily increased its use of recovered plastics while raising awareness of ocean health.
Today, the company formally unveiled what it bills as "the world’s most sustainable PC portfolio," including a new Chromebook that is HP's latest to include ocean-bound plastics. An HP representative called the line a "culmination" of the company's work in sustainable product design, but it's just the beginning: HP has pledged to include ocean-bound plastics in all new desktop and laptop computers launched in its Elite and Pro lines in 2020 and beyond.
Known best for its denim and everyday basics, apparel brand Lee is aggressively pursuing renewable energy, pledging to power all of its owned and operated facilities with renewables by 2025. Its new set of goals announced in April also include sourcing only sustainably grown or recycled cotton within five years and increasing its Indigood denim offerings on a yearly basis. Launched in February, Lee's Indigood line utilizes a foam-dyeing process that cuts water use by 99 percent and energy use by 60 percent, according to the company.
Global pharmaceutical firm Bayer is targeting carbon neutrality and 100 percent renewable energy sourcing by 2030, and its shareholders recently took a significant step to hold the company accountable.
"Our shareholders approved a new compensation system for the members of the Board of Management," Matthias Berninger, Bayer's SVP of public affairs and sustainability, tweeted on April 28. "It’s now tied to sustainability." The move bases 20 percent of board members' long-term variable compensation on the attainment of sustainability goals starting next year, reports Nasdaq.
In another recent addition to the SBTi portfolio, outdoor gear brand Arc’Teryx's goal of achieving net-zero emissions across its entire value chain by 2050 was approved by the initiative in April. All of the company's owned operations, including its retail stores, headquarters and Canadian manufacturing facility, are already powered by renewable energy.
In January, Microsoft unveiled an industry-leading climate action plan that includes a pledge to go beyond carbon negativity to remove the equivalent of all of the emissions it has ever produced (yes, you read that right). Along with its bold climate goal, the tech giant aims to protect more land than it uses by 2025 through strategies such as land acquisition for conservation and the creation of new national parks.
To that end, Microsoft is in the process of creating what it calls a "Planetary Computer" platform to catalog region-specific data about species, biodiversity and ecosystems, Environmental Leader reported in April. It will share the data with suppliers, partners and customers to ease their environmental decision-making and use it to "speak out on ecosystem-related public policy issues and take responsibility for Microsoft’s own land footprint,” company president Brad Smith told EL.
Image credit: Karsten Würth/Unsplash
Mary Mazzoni has reported on sustainability in business for over a decade and now serves as managing editor of TriplePundit. She is also the general manager of TriplePundit's Brand Studio, which has worked with dozens of brands and organizations on sustainability storytelling. Along with 3p, Mary's recent work can be found in publications like Conscious Company, Salon and Vice's Motherboard. She also works with nonprofits on media projects, including the women's entrepreneurship coaching organization Street Business School. She is an alumna of Temple University in Philadelphia and lives in the city with her partner and two spoiled dogs.