Corporations are afraid of their costs rising — shareholder interests demand a high return on investment in order for companies to remain profitable and competitive. But it simply will not remain viable to be a corporation that doesn’t address its impact on the environment.
As countries recognize and codify the need for legislation surrounding climate action proposals — pushing corporations to reduce their carbon output and adopt environmentally friendly practices and policies — there is a question that remains largely unasked: Why do we have to create laws surrounding environmental protection to get corporations to change?
We are nearing what the scientific community refers to as a point of no return — we have 5-10 years to drastically change how we produce, consume and dispose of consumer goods before the effects of climate change become irreversible. Legislation is undoubtedly a step in the right direction, but we should demand more from the companies we support. While many corporations heavily rely on fossil fuels and petroleum-based plastics, others are embracing alternatives — paving the way for a new standard, largely driven by consumer preference. Alternative options that embrace environmental safety already exist, and companies can still profit while aligning with their customers’ personal values. So, why wait for regulation instead of doing better now? The answer is simple — many businesses simply don’t want to, or don’t understand the benefits of adapting to a more eco-conscious market.
Companies don’t have to wait for a Green New Deal to adopt policies that are better for the environment. We, along with the majority of our Gen Z peers, are deeply concerned with the climate crisis and the corporate greed that continues to drive profit. And yet, we are asked to sit back and wait — until laws are put into place, until government officials recognize science, until companies stop shifting the blame to their consumers for consuming the very products they produce. We see a way to move the needle more quickly than with regulation — action through spending habits and vocal opposition to corporations that place shareholder interest over the collective good, starting with our own entrepreneurial ambitions.
In August 2020, amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, we launched our company, Impact Snacks — in large part, as a response to the climate crisis and the alarming statistic that US consumers eat more than one billion snacks every day. The goal has been simple: Make a healthy snack option that isn’t environmentally harmful to produce, consume or dispose of. We immediately recognized that we didn’t need to wait for regulation to force us to be more environmentally conscious in our production and packaging methods. We could simply start the type of business that we wanted to see — one focused on planning for climate change, with consumer habits at the forefront. What that means in practical terms is recognizing what technologies exist for better packaging and services for offsetting carbon emissions existing throughout the supply chain.
It shouldn’t have to be difficult to make sustainable everyday purchases. Sustainable packaging solutions are readily available. We should expect corporations to adopt non-plastic alternatives, even before legislation requires it. In 2015, a study found that our oceans house 150 metric tonnes of plastic; and that number is steadily rising. While bioplastics cost more than traditional plastic packaging, we must demand that companies relying on petroleum-based plastics change their packaging to marine-degradable bioplastics before the effect on our planet is irreversible. If a snack startup in Boston can handle the cost, surely industry giants can. Our generation demands it. And, as demand increases for bioplastics production, the cost will inevitably lower as it becomes easier and cheaper to produce. Biobased materials already require less steps and total resources to produce than petrol-based incumbents. The same realization happened with renewable energy — only a decade or so ago, it was far too expensive to use at scale; but now it is cheaper than fossil fuels in almost every major market.
Corporations are afraid of their production costs rising — shareholder interests demand a high return on investment in order for companies to remain profitable and competitive. The fastest way to meaningful change is by voting with our dollar, demanding action from companies that have historically failed to meet consumer expectations — or worse, used greenwashing as a means to make vague, unmeasurable “commitments” to unwitting consumers. Through our buying habits and boycotts, we get to choose where we spend our money; and with Gen Z representing almost 40 percent of all consumers, that’s a big piece of the pie. 47 percent of internet users have ditched brands that violate their personal values, with protecting the environment topping the list of reasons why. It simply will not remain viable to be a corporation that doesn’t address its impact on the environment.
At Impact Snacks, we meticulously track our carbon emissions — and we believe that other companies can and should as well, so they can offset those emissions. There are systems in place that commercial products pass through, such as shipping companies and post-consumer waste display boxes (90 percent recycled, but still working toward 100 percent), that are unavoidable. We track it all, from seed to harvest to production and shipment — as every company should. And combating greenwashing is easy to do with transparency: Each of our superfood bars creates approximately 0.37 lbs of carbon. Our carbon reclamation goal is 250 percent — which we meet by investing in clean energy infrastructure such as solar farms, and reforesting communities across the world. In our first quarter, we’ve planted more than 50,000 trees. It’s not difficult to do — and it’s what consumers want from leaders in the food industry. We’re not waiting until we have to.
The EU is banning all single-use plastics by 2025. California plans to ban the sale of gas-powered cars within 10 years. Canada is pushing for net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. In order to stay ahead of inevitable emissions regulations, companies are pledging to achieve carbon negativity. You can either design products for inevitability or cease to exist. While corporations as a whole haven’t traditionally built empires on altruism, markets show that as consumers’ buying habits change, so do corporations. Products marketed as sustainable grow 5.6 times faster than those that are not, making up over 50 percent of all CPG growth between 2013 and 2018. As Gen Z continues to gain buying power in the US economy, we can expect this trend to continue.
With stakeholder fear as the driving factor for publicly traded corporations, voting with our dollar really matters. Our generation, faced with the dire consequences of previous generations’ (in)actions, expect better of corporations that have traditionally been beholden only to finance — which is why we are leading a movement, looking toward the future by embracing available options immediately. In order to secure our future, we expect corporations to adopt sustainable systems and methods that work with nature, rather than against it — starting today.