June 7-9: Brand-Led Culture Change Virtual Event

Walking the Talk
How Businesses Can Make Earth Month More Just a Month

Rather than trying to convince people that they should care, like in years past; this Earth Month should be about challenging ourselves to set lasting change into motion. This year, I hope we see more action on the following trends …

This year, there is greater urgency around Earth Day. As temperatures continue to rise and the impacts are seen across the globe — and on our doorstep — it is clear we need to prioritize people and planet for more than just a day, or even a month. Change must be an ongoing collective effort from individuals, activists, government and business. For business leaders, actions can span choosing responsible materials and increasing transparency to shrinking corporate footprints and even taking greater consideration of the connection between climate and social justice. Consumers have come to expect better; and it’s our best chance at a safe and healthy planet for the next generations.

But it’s not all doom and gloom, because we know what we need to do. The innovations and action steps are at hand, and a critical mass is in support of turning the tides. Rather than trying to convince audiences that they should care, like in years past; this Earth Month should be about challenging ourselves to set lasting change into motion. We must celebrate the work done thus far, while continuing to stretch the bounds of what has been possible.

This year, let’s not pat ourselves on the back for empty promises. Instead, I’m hopeful we see more action on the following trends:

Greater scrutiny of sustainability pledges

As people demand that companies act more sustainably, companies respond by making more aggressive and more publicly touted goals — to the point that many of us wonder if these goals are feasible at all. With the growing skepticism of corporate goals comes an increased demand for clear and transparent reporting on real impacts. Consumers are beginning to take notice of businesses that have made real impacts right now over businesses that promise change at some point in the future.

Consumers want more transparency — from understanding materials used in products to how workers are treated

Sustainability is becoming an amorphous word. What we’ve found most consumers actually want is to make cleaner choices and support brands that provide safe, healthy, and fair wages and working conditions. But the materials and manufacturing processes behind products are often opaque. By increasing transparency, business leaders can enact meaningful change while also empowering consumers to make more informed decisions. One way we’ve found to pull back the curtain is to issue transparency labels for our products, which details materials used and social impacts; but the industry is ready to go one step further by participating in the recent AIA materials pledge and making materials labels a standard requirement.

Businesses go beyond net zero

As our planet continues to warm, the sense of urgency increases. For businesses aiming to do less harm, even net-zero goals are no longer enough — proactive steps need to be taken to undo decades of harm. Organizations such as SHINE at MIT, Business for Social Responsibility, and Forum for the Future are working to define and promote net-positive products and, eventually, organizations. We see businesses at various points in the journey towards net-positive production with Interface’s third-party-verified Carbon Neutral Floors™ program and UPM’s responsibly produced structural timber; and in 2021, over 60 percent of Humanscale’s products were certified to be climate positive through the Living Product Challenge.

Social issues are considered alongside environmental ones

Footprints have been used for years as a measure of negative impact on the environment. Handprints are now being used to calculate social impact, too. From investing in underserved communities — many of which are being disproportionately impacted by climate change — to purchasing slavery-free products, the environmental movement now encompasses the connection between people and planet. Businesses need to think beyond carbon mitigation and offsets, and consider how their production processes impact their global community. At Humanscale, we audit our suppliers for social impacts and collaborate with Design for Freedom to advocate for change in the building industry; but these types of assessments should become a requirement to do business.

Alignment around sustainability demands drives change

Sustainability can be looked at in many different ways, which can be confusing for consumers trying to make more sustainable purchasing decisions. While expectations are aligning around several main aspects of sustainability (climate health, ecosystem health, human health, circular economy, social impacts), we need a clear definition of the term. This will empower consumers who choose values-based purchasing and send a clear signal to businesses and manufacturers.

Prioritizing and embedding sustainability is no longer a ‘nice to have‘ — it is an investment in the future of your business.

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