#210 - How Business Can Be More Sustainable

February 01, 2022

#210 - How Business Can Be More Sustainable
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How can businesses be more sustainable? And from the consumer’s side, what can we do to push businesses to make more sustainable choices? Today, we unpack the seven most common prescriptions on how to become more sustainable, and three ways to become a more conscious consumer.


How can businesses be more sustainable? And from the consumer’s side, what can we do to push businesses to make more sustainable choices? This episode marks the final installment of our sustainable business series. 

Today, we unpack the seven most common prescriptions on how to become more sustainable, and three ways to become a more conscious consumer. We touch on the role of the Fashion Transparency Index, and the B Impact Assessment, along with taking an analysis of every company you spend money with. 

We use the examples of Patagonia and Mud Jeans to illustrate companies who make value-driven decisions, and touch on why, to address global warming, you need to address current needs. 

The majority of waste is created when we don’t use materials that have taken energy and resources to manufacture. We discuss how bearing that in mind to make sustainable choices works for the good of the planet, rather than just serving as a marketing tool.

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🗣 TOPICS DISCUSSED:

  • The seven most common prescriptions on how to become more sustainable
  • Why ethical and sustainable labor practices start with total transparency
  • What the Fashion Transparency Index does to encourage better practices 
  • Why the B Impact Assessment has a question asking businesses if they screen or evaluate suppliers and manufacturers
  • The value of taking an analysis of every company you spend money with
  • Patagonia’s story of pulling out of paid advertising with Facebook for ethical reasons
  • How essential it is to pay workers a living wage
  • Why poverty is expensive and it’s unreasonable to expect people in poverty to care about big issues
  • Why we need to address global warming by addressing current needs
  • How you should take responsibility for the end of life
  • How the majority of waste is created when we don’t use materials we’ve used energy and resources to manufacture
  • The importance of being transparent
  • Why you shouldn’t advertise, but rather advocate for change
  • How businesses need to see sustainability as essential for the good of the planet, and not a marketing opportunity
  • Why sustainable business needs to become the norm rather than the exception
  • What consumers can do to enact change
  • Why we are all responsible for creating change
  • Three ways to become a more conscious consumer: do your research, stop supporting monopolies, and be vocal!
  • Why when we are spending money we should be conscious about what those purchases say about us and what sort of world we want to live in

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Transcript

Cory Ames  0:00  
How can businesses be more sustainable? And as well, from the consumer side of things? What can we do to push businesses to make changes faster? We're back here with our final installment of our sustainable business series, where we've covered an introduction to why sustainable businesses important. We define what a truly sustainable business is. And as well, we've dug deep into how things look different for sustainable businesses with what practices and policies they adhere to. So finally, here, we're going to cover what needs to be done, how businesses can be more sustainable, and as well, what we as consumers can do Vance that change.

So first and foremost, what can businesses do? I've interviewed a lot of leaders in the space of sustainable business as a product of hosting the social entrepreneurship and innovation podcast of surpassed 200 interviews, I think, at this point, and when discussing where the greatest opportunities are to adopt more sustainable business models, here are the seven most common prescriptions that I hear. First, measure the carbon footprint. So we've seen plenty of net zero pledges as of late, whether that's from the Amazons of the world, or businesses of a much smaller size. The first step in achieving net zero though, is to know what the current net is. And of course, I could say that all businesses need to reduce emissions wherever possible, because they do. But the first step in reduction is measuring how much you are emitting. As we mentioned in a previous essay, there are organizations that are helping businesses do just that climate neutral or we are neutral. These organizations will also help businesses find where they should prioritize their reduction efforts. Step three for the Climate Neutral Certification Process is to build your reduction plan after you've offset what you're currently omitting. Number two, map the supply chain. So for those who aren't familiar with this, a supply chain is the sequence of activities that allows a company to deliver its products or services to the end consumer. Believe it or not, there are companies who can't claim to know exactly where all their materials come from, and exactly who touches them before they get to you. This is obviously a greater issue for companies that manufacture physical products. They might not know exactly where their manufacturers typically abroad, get the materials to make their goods, or what their labor conditions are like. More ethical and responsible trade and labor practices begin with complete transparency. This, for example, is a major issue in the fashion industry. That's why the nonprofit Fashion Revolution created the fashion transparency index in 2014. Fashion transparency index reviews and assesses how much information the world's largest fashion brands disclose around their social and environmental efforts. They believe that the more information brands are required to share publicly, the more they'll take action to clean up their supply chain. From both the labor and environmental standpoint. I think it's valuable to hear a bit from my conversation with Orsola de Castro, one of the founders of Fashion Revolution here on how critical it is to create transparency in fashion, or really any industry. Okay, number three, reallocate b2b spending in advertising. businesses spend a ton of money just to run themselves. Of course, there are salaries, but then they're also their suppliers, software tools, design marketing recruiting agencies, the business to business economy is actually larger than the business to consumer economy. It's important to know not just what products a business delivers to the retail shelves, but also what they did in who they spent money with to get it there. Right.

This is why the B Impact Assessment, which we addressed in the last episode has a question that asked businesses whether or not a screening or evaluate significant suppliers for social and environmental impact. If businesses take an analysis of every company they spend money with, they can see what other ethics values and practices they are supporting. Our company grow ensemble, for example, spends money with 20 to 30 Different companies each month, and we're quite small. Let's take a look at an example here in 2020. Patagonia decided to pull all their advertising from Facebook. In a recent statement CEO Ryan Gellert stated, Patagonia stopped all paid advertising on Facebook platforms in June 2020 Because they spread hate speech and misinformation about climate change in our democracy. We continue to stand by that boycott 16 months later, because they believe Facebook's business model and practices are disruptive and corrosive. Patagonia has since gone on to call on other companies to do the same divest advertising dollars from Facebook. Patagonia acknowledges the impact of where they spend their marketing dollars, not just on the number of sales, but for what it says about who their brand is supporting. Number four pay workers a living wage. By definition, a business cannot be sustainable if its employees cannot live off the wages that they make. If a business cannot afford to pay living wages, then they might need to change their business model. In the US as a direct result of low wages. Public Assistance Programs spend $152.8 billion a year. Poverty is expensive folks, it's expensive both for the individual experiencing it and for the community that they live in. We cannot expect to get people to care about things like climate change and living more sustainably if they can't afford the necessities for themselves and their families, while also still working a job.

As Paul Hawken, environmentalist and author of the book regeneration ending the climate crisis in one generation says the climate crisis is not a science problem. It is a human problem. If we're going to engage the bulk of humanity to end the climate crisis. The way to do it is counterintuitive. To reverse global warming, we need to address current human needs not an imagined dystopian future. And for every $1 per hour raise that those in the bottom 60% of earners receive spending on government assistance programs decreases by roughly $5.2 billion raise wages make public spending more effective and allow people to think about more than just meeting their needs. Gave number five take responsibility for the end of life. This should be the standard businesses manufacturing physical products should consider what happens to their product after its useful life is over. The majority of waste is created when we don't reuse materials that we've taken the energy and resources to manufacture. This is why single use plastic is so bad. Plastic is an extremely durable material in Once created, it can potentially have a long, useful life, used once and disposed of however, that plastic will most likely end up in a landfill The oceans are an inefficient recycling process. My jeans a circular denim company based in the Netherlands created a Lisa jeans model to state that Bay. The company is responsible for the product when the consumer is done with them. And our friends at preserve have begun to create their products from plastics reclaimed from waterways and ocean coastlines. Taking accountability for other products is end of life.

Number six, be transparent, very transparent. The most sustainable businesses that I know of are extremely transparent and diligent and publicly documenting their social and environmental progress. If you dig through enough of these companies, I've spent time researching well over 1000 of these brands, you start to see who stands out. A good company a Swedish sustainable ecommerce company has mapped out every single one of their factories on an interactive map and documented in extreme detail how they procure the materials used to manufacture their products. This is all easily accessible for anyone and everyone on their website at a good calm. And number seven don't advertise but advocate for change.

And lastly, a bit more intangible but important in principle. Businesses need to see this movement towards more sustainable practices as a critical and essential change for the good of the planet, not a marketing opportunity. This all connects to what we've discussed before here. It's important that we define what a sustainable business is and what a sustainable business does, because there's risk of the term being co opted purely for the sake of selling more products. Businesses on the path to sustainability shouldn't scream, hey, look how sustainable we are. They should instead use their marketing and communication strategies to do what we've described above. Take responsibility, measure, trace, improve and report on what they can be transparent and share their progress publicly. In turn by being a true voice for change, not just by creating another timely marketing campaign. I do believe that those businesses will be rewarded by the marketplace. But of course, that's not the primary priority here. Sustainable Business becoming the norm means that just at some point sustainable business will be business. It has to be though, for the sake of our planet. While this may seem like a behemoth of a task, there are plenty of bright spots to look to though. And this finding the bright spots has been one of the most rewarding joys of doing the work that we get to do here with grow ensemble. And of course we do see more bright spots every day.

Let's talk a bit more as to how we can push to create more bright spots or find them ourselves, what we can do on the consumer side to advance businesses to make this As change much faster. So what can consumers do? businesses, governments, consumers, there are arguments about who is responsible for making change. But the reality of it is, it's all of us. It's an all hands on deck moment in the world that we live in right now. We just each have different responsibilities. As a consumer, here are few things that I believe most impactful if we want to be mindful about how we make purchases, and encourage businesses to make meaningful changes towards sustainability. Let's cover three ways to be a more conscious consumer and push businesses to make change faster. Number one, do your research. So we can't all spend hours doing research just to find which are the most sustainable socks to purchase. That's kind of why it's our job here at girl ensemble. Although a little research can go a long way. There's a difference between hours of research and taking a few minutes to review what a potential purchase might say about your values. You can look for a company's certifications. Certifications aren't the end all be all, but they are typically a signal of a business's larger commitment to sustainability generally certified as a B Corp, climate neutral, regenerative organic or Fairtrade is an easy and while those certifications aren't perfect, the company certifying has to make a large commitment to gain and retain them. Also see how well a company documents their social environmental efforts. might they be like our friends, A Good Company who we mentioned earlier who have an interactive map for all their factories and suppliers publicly available on their website, or again, MUD Jeans who does something similar, but as well publishes an entire lifecycle assessment of their denim production. That's good, because that stuff is hard to fake.

Number two, stop supporting monopolies. Do we want to live in a world run by Amazon? Or do we want to live in a world that supports billions of expert craftspeople, chefs, musicians, artists, educators and artisans? Yes, Amazon has brought a lot of small business people into the market, who might otherwise not have been able to access such a large sea of buyers. However, the through line here is Amazon. It's hard for us to advocate for Amazon to change while at the same time celebrating two days shipping as some sort of groundbreaking innovation. What's Amazon's real incentive to change any of their behavior if one they aren't forced to and to customer behavior doesn't change? I believe that supporting small businesses creates a much more interesting, diverse and rich culture. When you travel. Do you look for local coffee shops, restaurants to try bookshops in boutiques? Or do you hustle to find the closest Target? I'm guessing it's the former. If that's what you find interesting, perhaps even want more of in the world, shouldn't your purchases support that? I think small businesses are beautiful. They contribute more mindfully to their communities and local cultures. And they should be supported.

Finally here be vocal, because as well as beautiful small businesses are also accountable. The great thing about seeing who actually runs a business you love is that you might have the opportunity to chat with them. And no, this is different from the celebrity that Bezos, Musk and Zuckerberg have. Could you get a hold of Jeff Bezos if he had a problem with Amazon? I don't think so. If there are questions or concerns that you have about a business, reach out to them, either on social media or an email, a small business has someone checking and responding those inquiries thoughtfully. The best businesses, ones we'd call sustainable are seriously considering the information you related them and design how they change and adapt moving forward. And likewise, we need to be vocal and showing our support for them. Opt for a purchase with a more sustainable small business alternative. share that news with friends, family, or followers, and help those businesses create some word of mouth. But let's be real conscious consumerism isn't necessarily going to save the planet, we are going to buy our way to a better world. However, if we are spending money, it's important to reflect on what impact value in influence those dollars spent have. Whether you acknowledge it or not, your dollar spent or supporting somebody in some set of business practices and values. What do you want your purchasers to say about you and what sort of world you want to live in?

Alright, so that's a wrap on another episode of the social entrepreneurship and innovation podcast, as always so grateful to have you listening in. If you love the show, please leave us a review on Apple podcasts or hit subscribe wherever it is that you get yours. And as well. I want to invite you to sign up for our Better World weekly newsletter. This is our weekly discussion with our community of social entrepreneurs and changemakers on all things building a better world is a newsletter I write and publish send out myself every single Monday go to growensemble.com/newsletter, to join in on that discussion all things building a better world. Go to grow ensemble.com backslash newsletter to get the next one in your inbox.

And finally, if you know of a company work within a company or run a company that might be interested in sponsoring In the social entrepreneurship and innovation podcasts, we always love starting conversations with potential partners who share our vision of building a better world together. Go to social entrepreneurship.fm backslash contact. There you can fill out a quick form, start that conversation with us. These sorts of partnerships fuel our mission to build a better world together. Alright, y'all, until next time