2013 was a banner year for companies using their muscle to drive transformative change, both internally and globally. Without further ado, here is just a taste of some of the progress we found most inspiring.
Promoting more sustainable behavior
It’s heartening to see business becoming wise to the necessity of sustainability, but what if consumers aren’t on board? A number of brands took the initiative and continued to plant seeds through a variety of campaigns and initiatives this year: Ever the instigator, Patagonia followed up its famous ‘Don’t Buy This Jacket’ ad from Black Friday 2011 with this year’s Worn Wear and Responsible Economy campaigns, both geared toward encouraging customers to buy and live more thoughtfully; Unilever expanded its ‘Help a Child Reach 5’ campaign, which aims to end preventable deaths of children under five by changing hand-washing behaviors, from India to communities and villages across 17 countries globally. And last month, the consumer goods giant launched its global Project Sunlight campaign, which aims to make sustainable living desirable by inspiring people to imagine the possibilities of a world where everyone lives well, within the natural limits of the planet.
Making supply chains more resilient
The call by consumers globally for companies to be more responsible and transparent has led many to create tools and initiatives through which they can deliver.
- Ingredients and materials: The Sustainable Apparel Coalition released Higg Index 2.0, its updated self-assessment tool designed to measure the impacts of apparel and footwear products throughout their supply chain; Bayer CropScience launched its e3 sustainable cotton program, which provides stringent guidelines for U.S. cotton farmers; in March, Nike partnered with bluesign technologies to broaden the supply of sustainable materials and chemistries across the apparel industry, and this month, the sportswear giant opened a facility in Taiwan featuring equipment that eliminates water and chemicals from fabric dyeing; Coke and SABMiller have restored all water used for production in parts of the U.S. and Zambia, respectively; and longtime deforesters Asia Pulp and Paper and Wilmar International both committed this year to ending their destructive practices once and for all.
Co-creating groundbreaking solutions
The range of cross-sector collaborations on a variety of innovative solutions is hopefully just a drop in the bucket of those to come. On the materials front, in April, Nike, NASA, USAID and the U.S. Department of State presented the two-day LAUNCH 2020 Summit, which highlighted the importance of developing sustainable materials and unveiled an open call for innovation to transform the system of producing fabrics; last month, Ford and Coke pooled their expertise to develop the first interior fabric made from the same renewable material used to produce Coke’s PlantBottle packaging; and Coke, Danone, Ford, Heinz, Nestlé, Nike, P&G, Unilever and WWF formed the Bioplastic Feedstock Alliance to support the responsible development of plastics made from plant material and promote a more sustainable future for the bioplastics industry.
Other groundbreaking collaborations include My Energi Lifestyle, Ford’s partnership with Sunpower, Eaton, Whirlpool and Nest that demonstrates how combining renewable energy with time-flexible vehicle charging and appliance use can optimize home energy consumption; USAID, P&G and Coke partnered earlier this month to boost entrepreneurship as part of the Philippine recovery effort; GSK and the Gates Foundation joined forces to develop heat-resistant vaccines, reducing the need for refrigeration in hot, remote and resource-limited regions; and Kingfisher, BT, Coca-Cola Enterprises, SKF, Capgemini and The Crown Estate have joined Forum for the Future, The Climate Group and WWF-UK to encourage businesses to commit to becoming net positive.
Supporting climate legislation
Hundreds of proactive U.S. companies stood up in favor of putting some kind of legislation into place to begin halting climate change. Starbucks, Unilever, L’Oréal, Patagonia, Ben & Jerry’s, Stonyfield Farm, Eileen Fisher and hundreds more signed Ceres’ Climate Declaration, which urges federal policymakers to seize the economic opportunity of addressing climate change; and in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, all of the above and more signed a letter calling for President Obama to follow through on climate change preparedness efforts outlined in the climate action plan he announced in June.
Evolving business models
These forward-thinking companies have embraced the principles of the circular economy and expanded their offerings beyond products to include services, something we hope to see much more of in years to come: Not only did BMW build BMW i, its line of electric cars, sustainably from the ground up, it has partnered with MINI and SIXT in the electric car-sharing service DriveNow, currently operating in four German cities and San Francisco; Philips Lighting has shifted from selling lighting as a product to lighting as a service, designing and installing energy-efficient outdoor solutions for municipalities and highway agencies around the world; and through the aforementioned My Energi Lifestyle collaboration, Ford, Whirlpool and their partners are helping American families significantly reduce their impact and electricity bills by integrating home-appliance technology with a plug-in vehicle and solar power to achieve an energy-efficient lifestyle.
Providing solutions for developing communities
Adopting new metrics
A host of proactive companies are now using a variety of innovative metrics to analyze the full picture of their operations and impacts: Disney, Wells Fargo, Google and 26 other U.S. companies have established internal carbon budgets and fees as a means for reduction; companies are finding ways to put monetary value on human capital (Interface) and employee engagement (SAP); and at September’s New Metrics conference, J&J revealed how it, with the help of Deloitte, found a way to measure the ROI of being seen as a product category leader, and Future 500’s Bill Shireman shared insights from brands including McDonald's, Avon, Trader Joe's, Mitsubishi, Starbucks, Coca-Cola and Nestlé on the correlation between corporate sustainability and brand value; using context-based metrics to analyze their performance, Climate Counts determined that Autodesk, Unilever, Eli Lilly and 22 other companies exhibited revenue growth even as their emissions declined, proving that decoupling growth from emissions is possible.
Engaging and incentivizing employees
As Jones Lang LaSalle reported in April, engaged employees are key to the success of any company’s sustainability efforts. Here are just a few who shared their strategies and successes with us this year: AT&T’s award-winning Do One Thing initiative positions employees as change agents and empowers them to choose and implement sustainability-oriented actions that positively impact their lives, communities and the company; employees at AB InBev say they are driven by their dream to be the Best Beer Company in a Better World and their “Dream-People-Culture” platform, which inspires each of them to feel and act accountable for the company’s success; many of Caesars Entertainment’s sustainability programs were initiated and driven by the employees themselves; SAP developed a cloud-based carpool app to help companies reduce costs by encouraging employees to ride-share to work; 3M held a sustainability power pitch that challenged employees to pitch their best sustainable product ideas, with the winning idea nabbing a research grant to bring the product to life; and inspired by initiatives from Unilever, Vancity, Intel and others that DMV.org heard about at SB ‘13, the company initiated five purpose-driven initiatives that will allow it to sustainably launch programs both internally and in its local community.
Shifting to renewable energy
In 2013, we saw the adoption of renewable energy by multinationals in a variety of industries and commitments for much more in the years to come. This year, those who’ve done it include Microsoft, which achieved carbon neutrality and increased its renewable energy use by 70%; Walmart, which announced it produced enough solar energy to power 38 states; and UK grocer Sainsbury’s, which opened two “triple zero” stores, which produce zero carbon emissions, send zero waste to landfill and are water-neutral. And those committing to it include UK retail giant the John Lewis Partnership, which this month announced over 380 of its Waitrose and John Lewis stores will be powered by 100 percent renewables by 2015; Dell, which announced in October a commitment to reduce the energy intensity of its product portfolio by 80 percent by 2020; and this month, Lego Group committed to becoming net positive through the use of renewables by 2016.
Turning waste into resources
We can't wait to see how companies continue to find ways to Reimagine, Redesign and Regenerate in 2014!