What does it mean to be a truly sustainable company?


Companies are wising up to science-based goal setting, writes Sustainable Brands’ Dimitar Vlahov.

Thought leadership around what it means to be a truly sustainable company is evolving, and it’s exciting to see well-informed new roadmaps explaining how to tackle many environmental and social challenges in a science-based or science-consistent way.

Many leading scholars and researchers are now calling on brands to adopt science-based goal-setting practices and to replace arbitrary commitments – such as “20 per cent impact reduction by 2020”.

The most deeply researched guide to science-based goal-setting is ‘The Future-Fit Business Benchmark’. It offers a set of goals that collectively define what every company must do if we are to safeguard the possibility that humanity can flourish forever. It’s an open-source framework that outlines 20 social and environmental goals across business areas that apply to all companies, regardless of industry or size.

Science-based goal-setting and impact reduction is important for all environmental and social issues, but perhaps most important when it comes to avoiding runaway climate change, for example, avoiding crucial thresholds beyond which humanity may face disastrous consequences. While the number of companies that have adopted science-based goal-setting and action around carbon is still relatively small, there are multiple signs that brands are stepping up their game. Below are some important examples of increasing levels of ambition, including clean energy projects and partnerships for meeting aggressive carbon goals.

The UN recently announced a new initiative to help businesses and individuals reduce their carbon footprints. Climate Neutral Now is an online platform that will facilitate the measurements, reduction and offset of greenhouse gas emissions.

It has been backed by companies including Adidas Group, Sony, Microsoft and Marks & Spencer. Sony and Adidas have goals to become carbon-neutral companies, while Microsoft and M&S have already achieved carbon neutrality.

Thirteen of the largest US companies recently pledged a collective $140 billion of low-carbon investments in the global economy and over 1,600 MW of new renewable energy with the signing of the American Business Act on Climate Pledge.

This high-profile pledge is the latest indicator that the White House is succeeding in its effort to garner private-sector support for a substantive climate agreement at COP21.

A few years ago biotechnology specialist Biogen measured the carbon footprint of its entire value chain – with both upstream and downstream impacts included – and then completely offset it, effectively becoming carbon neutral across its entire global business as of June 2015. This remarkable feat catapulted the company right to the top of this year’s prestigious Newsweek Green Rankings.

A number of hip new millennial- friendly startups are popping up to help with the massive transition to a clean energy economy. One great example is advanced biofuel startup bio-bean, the first company in the world to industrialise the process of recycling waste coffee grounds into advanced biofuels. Its business model is so promising that this year it won the Mayor of London’s inaugural Low Carbon Entrepreneur Award.

Dimitar Vlahov is director of content development, Sustainable Brands.