Hannah Zimmerman Jeremy Osborn and Tom Idle
Published 1 month ago.
About a 14 minute read.
Several discussions at SB’23 San Diego highlighted the importance of achieving total visibility into company operations, relationships, impacts and messaging — to avoid surprises that could hamstring progress.
Image credit: Christine Roy
As this thought-provoking Tuesday afternoon breakout made clear, even the most
sustainability-dedicated brands could unknowingly be canceling out their own
efforts to reduce emissions because of their banking and advertising
Pure Strategies co-founder and Managing Director
Tim Greiner led a discussion with
Duncan Meisel, Executive
Director at Clean Creatives; Paul
Moinester, founder and Executive
Director at The Outdoor Policy Outfit
(TOPO); Kate Ogden, Head of Advocacy
and Movement Building at Seventh Generation;
and Katrina Shum, Head of
Regeneration & Sustainability at Lush Fresh Handmade
Cosmetics, on strategies to maximize brand
impact beyond traditional metrics.
An important step for brands is to see which advertising and PR agencies you are
partnering with. Advertising and PR are behind the fossil fuel industry’s
misleading ads that convince people that climate change isn’t real; and brands
have the power to shut off the tap of disinformation. Despite what some fossil
fuel companies claim about their sustainability efforts, they are still publicly
committing to making more fossil fuels — which continue to drive climate change
and are responsible for more deaths than tobacco. Clean Creatives is a global
movement to get the PR and advertising industry to stop working with fossil fuel
companies; and over 2,000 creatives and 800 agencies have signed the
pledge to not work with them anymore. The
growing number of brands — including Seventh Generation and Lush — that are
pushing their agencies to cut ties with the fossil fuel industry is a powerful
lever. Beginning with a simple conversation and making it clear that your brand
won’t work with or hire agencies if they are supporting the fossil fuel industry
can have a big impact on stopping the growth of dangerous disinformation.
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“More is more,” Meisel said. “And every conversation about this issue is
Brands not only need to consider where their marketing budgets are going, but
also where they hold their finances. Banking plays a major role in driving
climate change — and where you bank matters, especially as companies grow.
Approximately 22 percent of the money in your
or your company's bank account is being lent out to the fossil fuel
— which continues to promote
and emit climate-changing
— and other sectors responsible for fueling climate change. When brands make
commitments around their own environmental impacts, they need to consider that
the emissions funded by the financial institutions that they work with could
actually be higher than their own Scope 1 and 2 emissions, combined.
“The climate work and objectives of the largest companies in the world are being
entirely undermined by their reliance on misaligned financial institutions that
are funding things that these companies would never support themselves,”
To put it into perspective, if you were to buy an electric vehicle, you would
reduce your emissions by approximately 3.3 tons per year; but if you were to
move $25,000 from a “dirty” bank to a “green”
you would have a reduction of 1.4 times the emissions of buying an EV.
Organizations such as “think and do tank” TOPO partner with brands to help them
take back the power of their dollars and ramp up investments in the things they
actually want to support. The first step is working with your company’s CFO to
set up targets and goals that align with your brand's commitments; then engage
with your banks and investment companies just as you would a supplier on your
supply chain. In the case of the Seventh Generation, it was looking at the
company holistically to see if it was still achieving what it had initially set
out to do — which led to the creation in 2022 of a first-of-its-kind
with which companies can factor in their spending to comprehensively measure
their corporate climate impact.
“We realized that we were complicit in propping up the fossil fuel industry
across any number of areas of our business,” Ogden said. “Every dollar we spend
and invest in our business has quiet ties to driving climate impact because of
the relationship of those business operations to the fossil fuel industry.”
Brands need to look at all aspects of their business — including banking,
marketing services, philanthropic efforts and advocacy — to understand the
associated climate impacts and set a strategy to address these emissions.
While that may seem like a daunting task, it doesn’t have to be. Start small and
prioritize where to start — for example, with marketing services or retirement
savings — and then work with those organizations to create a timeline to resolve
the issues. In the case of Seventh Generation, they made a survey based on the
Clean Creatives Pledge, sent it around to their vendors and marketing agencies,
and created an engagement map.
Lush, on the other hand, has historically used its shops as a platform to fight
fossil fuels through various campaigns — started with the company’s retirement
savings plan when it was time to renew the RFP. Working with Canadian credit
union Desjardins, it created a
retirement savings fund called the Lush Fund that adheres to certain ESG
requirements, including not investing in tar sands. That grew to the US market,
where they began looking at their ethical funds and charitable giving and moving
them over to better banks.
“Internally, we have been slowly moving pieces of the pie over,” Shum said,
“while externally, we have been joining on conversations on how to end fossil
fuels and engaging with other businesses on how we grow this movement.”
Brands’ choices in who they partner with for their marketing and finance
activities play an overlooked but critical role in the fight against climate
change. By starting the conversation and demanding solutions in a timely manner,
companies can wield a substantial influence in reducing emissions and countering
disinformation campaigns perpetuated by the fossil fuel industry. In this
growing movement, brands can be a powerful agent of change.
L-R: Beth Wyke, Suzanne Shelton and Mark Lee
The wild, wild West days of sustainability communications are coming to an end.
From mandatory disclosures stemming from the EU’s Corporate Sustainability Reporting
to guard rails on product claims coming from the FTC’s Green
update, brands are under increasing pressure to ensure their messaging is both
Mark Lee, Director of the
SustainAbility Institute by ERM, introduced
two very different panelists for this session that explored greenwashing
pitfalls and the role of verification in improving sustainability
communications. Suzanne Shelton,
President and CEO of Shelton Group and Senior Partner
at ERM, has built a career helping brands to shout loudly about their ESG
progress. Beth Wyke — Partner
and Business Lead for Corporate Assurance at ERM CVS
— on the other hand, has spent her time quietly and diligently finding evidence
to back up ESG claims.
As Lee toured the microphone around the room, numerous delegates voiced their
current challenges and concerns. Incoming regulation and tightening of the rules
when it comes to making environmental claims on product packaging is front of
mind for many auditors and communicators.
“45 percent of US citizens want to be seen to be buying eco products — up from
33 percent ten years ago,” Shelton said. Most look for either recycling logos
to make them feel better about what they consumer, she added. “The trouble is,
people don’t really know what these logos mean. Certifications build trust with
people, but there is a real lack of understanding and recognition about what
In the first of many examples of greenwashing shown on screen, Shelton
highlighted a plastic bag that claims to be reusable (mainly because it is made
of heavier plastic, making it more durable) and recyclable (albeit with a
recyclable No. 4 LDPE logo, which means the bag would have to be taken back to a
store to enter an appropriate recycling stream). “And then there are the
companies that make up their own labels. Brands are misleading consumers; and
there’s not a lot of regulation to control it, but it is coming.”
In most instances, companies are following the rules and are staying within the
boundaries of what is legal when it comes to making sustainability claims, Wyke
claimed. Yet she is frustrated by the evidence of brands bending the rules,
greenwashing and generally misleading people.
“I’m skeptical by nature. That’s why I’m an auditor,” she said. “And companies
need to use caution when they make claims or use certification logos.” She used
the example of a range of sandwich bags that she said have been wrongly marketed
as being compostable. “Consumers can only compost them after use in some parts
of the country, but not everywhere. Yes, the company is complying with the rules
— they can be composted or taken back to the store for recycling. But it’s
definitely misleading; and due to the new awareness of consumers and
expectations on companies, there is a reputational risk for brands, even if
there isn’t a legal risk.”
The FTC Green Guides will soon be revised and there is a wide acknowledgement
that the legal rules on environmental claims need to change. In the meantime,
Shelton says that brands just need to be open about the journey they are on.
“Slapping the word ‘green’ on something, without explaining it, is
she told the audience. If you’re a brand that is frustrated by the idea that
packaging that can be composted is not able to be composted in most parts of the
country, start a movement to affect change, she added. “Let’s use the space on
the back of packaging to explain the situation and invite activism to bridge the
gap. Let’s open up a conversation.”
Image credit: IBM
This Wednesday afternoon breakout explored the challenges and opportunities of
operationalizing sustainability in global agricultural supply chains through
data and technology.
Janet Wall, Product Strategy
Leader at IBM Sustainability Solutions,
spoke about the importance of making ESG data visible and actionable. She
emphasized the need for a data platform that can integrate data from disparate
sources and make it accessible to all stakeholders. This allows for more
informed decision-making and real-time responses on sustainability.
Antoinette Marie, Director of Heifer
Labs at Heifer International, also
expounded on the value real-time data — specifically, with regard to supporting
farmers in Malawi. Heifer International is working with IBM to provide
farmers with SMS warnings on weather
which is helping farmers to make more informed decisions about planting and
harvesting, which is leading to increased yields and incomes.
The speakers discussed the importance of cross-functional collaboration in ESG
initiatives. They noted that procurement, IT, operations and other departments
all have a role to play in collecting, analyzing and reporting on ESG data. By
working together, these departments can create a more comprehensive and accurate
picture of their company's sustainability performance and areas that need
Image credit: Allbirds
The increasing proliferation of product carbon labels is giving consumers,
investors and other stakeholders insight into the carbon impact of their
favorite products and allowing brands to capture high-quality data for
measurement and reporting. Moderated by Ren
DeCherney, Lead of Built
Environment, North America + Australasia, at the Cradle to Cradle Product
Innovation Institute, this Wednesday afternoon
discussion gave Oatly Director of Sustainability Julie
Allbirds Sustainability Senior Manager Aileen
Logitech Head of Engineering for Materials,
Sustainability and Gaming Audio Tiffany
Beers the platform to discuss the
methodologies and processes their brands have put behind their product-level
carbon labels in order to ensure high-quality, accurate, verifiable data.
To collect data, a brand needs to know who to involve and how to involve them.
Whether it be a team dedicated to leading the charge like Oatly or having
individual teams manage their own data like Logitech, data collection requires a
group effort. An added benefit of doing so, illustrated by
is that it allows for the sustainability team to be invited and involved in
different areas of operations and understand their challenges on a personal
“Getting data requires a lot of collaboration and dependency across a lot of
teams, which can be challenging,” Lerch said. “But it has enabled our
sustainability team to be embedded in the decision-making of the company.”
But that cross-team and often cross-industry collaboration is key. For carbon
labeling, every stop along the production process must be accounted for; so,
bringing in people from up and down the supply chain to calculate their data is
no small feat. Thinking about who to partner and collaborate with can never
start too early for a more efficient and accepted process. For brands such as
Allbirds, it could mean competing with external partners such as adidas to see
who can make the lowest-carbon shoe.
In the case of
getting the teams on board meant convincing everyone to play a role. “A lot of
it is internal storytelling,” Beers said. “At the beginning of the product,
getting everyone involved in setting a goal allows the freedom of ideas to come
up; and it bonds the teams because they are doing something bigger.”
Further cultivating that excitement and empowering teams to actively take part
in the process involves understanding that sustainability means different things
for different people. For some, it could be carbon; for others, it could be
human rights — but deciding what sustainability means to your brand will give
you consistency in your data collection. To get that level of focus, educating
your teams on what sustainability means to the company is key. The
sustainability team at Oatly hosts monthly internal sustainability classes
geared towards non-specialists; and by doing so, everyone across departments can
now speak to the company's sustainability agenda.
“We have invested a lot of time in trying to open the door to what we do, so
it’s not so mysterious,” Kunen said. “They feel a lot more confident and have
enough sustainability knowledge to engage in this topic and be an actor in this
While the journey is to inevitably create a carbon
it's also a jumping-off point for a broader plan that can improve a company’s
narrative around its sustainability initiatives and the processes of suppliers.
Following the carbon along the supply chain allows a holistic view for the brand
to see risks in the supply chain and begin to think about how to tackle them —
whether it be an updated supplier code of conduct to see how a supplier is using
water or updating the metrics around agriculture and farming.
“Carbon gives an entryway,” Lerch said. “For us, it is having that focus and
trying to make an impact in one area but not losing sight of other indicators.”
The panelists agreed that a collaborative approach to data collection —
involving cross-functional teams and partners throughout the supply chain —
ensures high-quality, accurate and verifiable data. Knowing what sustainability
means for your brand and educating teams on this concept helps maintain
consistency in data collection and empowers individuals from various departments
to actively participate in the sustainability journey. Beyond carbon labels,
this approach serves as a foundational step in a broader sustainability strategy
— enhancing a company's narrative and enabling a holistic view of supply chain
risks for more effective mitigation strategies. Carbon labeling can serve as an
entry point to making a positive impact while not losing sight of other critical
Published Oct 25, 2023 11am EDT / 8am PDT / 4pm BST / 5pm CEST
Formerly working in the advertising world in Kansas City, Hannah Zimmerman has now married her past experience with her passion for sustainability. When she isn't chasing her four-year-old daughter or helping companies along on their sustainability journey through consulting, reporting, communications and certifications, she is working on her master's in Sustainability through Harvard.
Jeremy Osborn is a NYC-based entrepreneur and and senior consultant with a background in marketing and communications, tech, strategy, governance, and sustainability. He holds an MA in Resources, Environment, and Sustainability from the University of British Columbia and has worked for leading brands in a wide range of industries and sectors — including food and ag, consumer goods, built environment, industrial manufacturing, energy, finance, transportation, and more.
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