Greenwashing or genuinely interested in saving the environment? Ashley Norris of Transition Earth looks at the brands that are doing their bit for sustainability….
There’s no denying that sustainability has become a huge trend in recent years. Many brands, from high street to high end, have integrated sustainable messaging into their communications strategy as a way to attract more conscientious consumers.
The latest example is The North Face, which launched a limited-edition collection of T-shirts made out of single-use plastic litter, sourced from the Alps. The company will donate €1 from each T-shirt sale to The Summit Foundation, a non-profit that supports clean-up programmes to preserve living conditions in mountainous regions.
With more and more brands jumping on the eco-friendly bandwagon, it’s important to identify which brands are simply using sustainability jargon to sell more products and gain some good publicity – also known as greenwashing – from those making an actual long-term commitment to ethical methods of production. Here are some companies that are either practising sustainability already or committed to making a more sustainable supply chain in the long term.
“Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.” This is the mission statement of Patagonia, the outdoor wear brand that has claimed its commitment to taking care of planet Earth since launching in 1973.
In regards to environmental impact, Patagonia is impressive: a significant percentage of its polyester, nylon and wool materials are made from recycled fabrics, all of its cotton is officially certified as organic by the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), the products are designed to be long-lasting and the brand speaks out against fast fashion by actively encouraging consumers to spend less.
In the 2019 Ethical Fashion Report, which takes worker empowerment, environment management, company transparency and living wages into consideration, Patagonia was awarded the second-highest rating. In addition, Patagonia publicly provides information on suppliers, audits the majority of its production facilities and makes sure that subcontracts are in line with the official Code of Conduct standards.
Last but not least, Patagonia actively supports animal welfare, refuses to use angora, leather or fur in products and sources recycled wool and down-feather.
This new, all-female coffee roastery is owned and run by Fi O’Brien (Australian) and Casey LaLonde (American), based out of Somerset in the U.K. On top of being passionate about coffee, the two owners started the business conscious that 70% of coffee production work is done by women (picking and sorting) while men dominate the coffee supply chain in management positions, meaning that it’s most often the men who make all the big decisions.
Working with female coffee producers and putting them in the coffee industry spotlight is, therefore, one of GWGC’s core values, alongside sourcing their coffee beans from like-minded small-scale importers and the producers directly who can agree on fair prices and ethical transportation: GWGC expect their partners to be fully transparent in how they run all aspects of their business and provide up to date information on traceability. Definitely, one to watch in terms of sustainability goals.
In 2017, Hewlett-Packard (HP) launched new ink cartridge prototypes that were made from plastic bottles recycled in Haiti, through a partnership with Thread and First Mile Coalition. This new initiative also provided an opportunity to correct serious child labour issues – all over Haiti, children are tasked with collecting recyclable material from the country’s landfills – with HP working to ensure that the children received education opportunities and access to health care.
HP did not perform a one-off action for good publicity. In fact, they’ve worked since 2010 to reduce their Scope 3 supply chain emissions by 21% and travel emissions by 16%, with a commitment of up to 10% more by 2025. Having reduced Scope 3 supply chain emissions by 21% and transportation emissions by 16% since 2010, they are aiming for a further 10% by 2025. By being transparent and identifying their sustainability targets, HP becomes accountable for tracking, measuring and reporting on the condition of their supply chain, and health, safety and environmental performance.
Having partnered with Parley in 2015, Adidas sold over one million pairs of trainers, composed from 95% ocean plastic, in 2017, before going on to sell 5 million pairs in 2018 and 11 million pairs in 2019. For 2020, the brand has estimated a creation of 15-20 million trainers made of 95% recycled material. By 2024, they have pledged to use 100% recycled polyester in all their products.
This may seem like a strategic move to silence any environmental critics but one look at the brand’s history shows that they have always made room for sustainability, they’ve simply speeded up their efforts since 2015. In 1998 Adidas created their first manual to have a better handle on supply chain management and followed this up in 2000 with an entrance into ethical investment. Since then, the brand has improved its transparency and traceability and introduced stricter guidelines for suppliers before fully committing to sustainability as of 2012.
Goodee is a U.S. marketplace that offers essential homeware and lifestyle products for modern living. Founded in 2017 by designers and creative directors Byron and Dexter Peart, Goodee is dedicated to providing customers with sustainable solutions and therefore collaborates solely with artists and creators whose work carries environmental or social impact.
Goodee bases its business practices on the UN’s 17 sustainable development goals and asks all brand partners to supply information on the materials used, supply chains, labour practices, ecological footprint and business ethics. Products sold on the platform are carefully selected before undergoing an inspection/appraisal process carried out by an in-house sustainability team, with a Goodee stamp of approval signalling that the product has passed all sustainability tests.
Goodee is a certified B Corporation, which involves a rigorous test by non-profit B Lab, proof that they work in a way to benefit both the people involved with the company, as well as the planet. They’re also members of 1% for the Planet, which means that at least 1% of every sale will go towards supporting environmental non-profit organizations. Gender advocacy and supporting marginalized communities are also listed on their company values page.
It’s hugely important for big brands such as Adidas, The North Face and HP to be emotionally committed to their sustainable goals. By leading the way they play a role in helping more big companies understand that sustainability extends beyond environmental matters, encompassing economic and social issues.
It’s equally important that investors realise consumers are more than ready to spend their money on ethically sourced products, and that smaller-sized companies who place sustainability at the heart of their values from day one are to be taken seriously from a business perspective.