Can any company ever be truly ‘sustainable’?

Endaba Group

Sustainability is becoming increasingly integral to companies’ propositions. As the balance of power has shifted to the consumer, they are driving and pressuring companies to position sustainability to the top of their agendas. For those that are embracing it, sustainability is now cited as a competitive advantage and 55% of executives claim that sustainability is driving revenue for their business!

Patagonia, The Body Shop and H&M all claim to be ‘sustainable’ brands, but how are these companies ensuring they live up to their promise?

Patagonia

Sustainability is at the core of everything they do. They wholeheartedly take responsibility for their impact on the planet, with their purpose to “save the planet”, and their mission to “build the best product, and cause no unnecessary harm”. Patagonia represents sustainability in a way entirely unique to the business world, even encouraging its customers to reduce their consumption of products, with a recent ad campaign that read “Don’t Buy This Jacket”!

Patagonia’s openness to their impact on the environment is a refreshing and bold approach. The company asked their customers to consider the impact of one of their best sellers, the R2 Jacket. To produce the jacket it requires 135 litres of water, which is enough to meet the daily needs of 45 people! Its journey to the warehouse generates almost 20 pounds of carbon dioxide and the jacket leaves behind two-thirds of its weight in waste. These astonishing facts would have been unknown to the majority of Patagonia’s customers; so why do they feel the need to be so honest?

Patagonia is a privately held company without the pressure that other companies face to grow. Their focus is almost entirely on ensuring they do everything they can to not cause unnecessary harm to the planet. As well as calling for their customers to reduce consumption, Patagonia also want to design products that will last. They have created the largest repair centre in North America and offer a mobile repair service, in which they travel across the US to restore damaged goods, free of charge.

The Body Shop

Sustainability has always been a business imperative and brand promise. The company are all too aware of the loss of impact of the word ‘sustainable’ within the retail world, and have had to reinvent their definition and interpretation of it. It is not simply about “being less bad”, but by 2020 they want everything that goes into their products to be sourced sustainably and to be traceable. Their new initiative will focus on protecting forests, building biodiversity bridges and reducing fossil fuel dependence for its packaging.

The company has also turned to science to prove their decreasing impact upon the environment, believing that in order to be progressive, ground-breaking and a truly sustainable brand, they must be informed by science. The Body Shop has claimed that they are going one step further than other ‘sustainable’ companies, and they want their operations to have zero impact, because this is what science proves they need to do. Where they can be, they will be 100% green, and when this is not possible, then they plan to offset the impact of their operations. This is an enormous claim, and one that truly does stand above the rest in terms of sustainability!

H&M

H&M relies on an enormously high volume of sales and incredible rate of growth, and it is this business model that has made it a hugely controversial issue for H&M to position themselves as a ‘sustainable’ brand. They want to reduce their environmental footprint while doubling their store footprint, and producing masses of easily disposable clothing.

The company has undeniably taken steps in the right direction, with their use of recycled fabric rising from 0.2% in 2014 to 1% in 2015. They also reduced their emissions by 56% over these 2 years, and since 2013 they have collected 25,000 tonnes of textile waste to recycle. However, people are cynical towards their actions, believing that their efforts are for marketing purposes. Their recycling voucher scheme ensured that the 15% discount was enough to prompt a new purchase, thus protecting the company’s margin.

The Swedish retailer is one of the largest fashion brands in the world in terms of sales volume and. Their CEO Karl-Johan Perrson recognises that this is a very complex issue for H&M and although they’ve come a long way, there’s more for them to do. Their incremental change is certainly not worthless, yet they are proof that ‘sustainable companies’ can certainly not be placed into one simple category!

“Sustainability is a global, political, economical, social, technological, legal and environmental matter. Like the digital agenda, sustainability has to be pervasive throughout an organisation. It needs to be owned and shared by everyone. It is non-negotiable; what’s internal is external and a brand must live by their promise.” Lynette Deutsch, CEO, The Endaba Group