Breene Murphy is the Vice President of Strategy and Marketing at Carbon Collective.
We are already experiencing climate change. There have been extended or more severe fire seasons in the Western United States, Nepal and Australia (paywall) that many experts attribute to climate change. According to a 2016 NASA article, a recent drought in the Middle East was likely the worst in the last 900 years. The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has expressed the benefit of reducing our emissions by 45% from 2010 levels by 2030 and reaching “net zero” by 2050 in order to limit global warming to 1.5°C. That will likely require large-scale mobilization, which includes brands.
Some brands, like Patagonia, are leading the charge by working to reduce their emissions. As someone who has evaluated sustainable business pitches, worked with congressional members on climate policy, helped develop local city council climate policies and is currently the vice president of strategy and marketing at a company that offers a climate-friendly online investment advisor, here are a few ways I recommend that your brand gets started solving this problem.
Create A Specific Sustainability Plan To Address Your Carbon Footprint
Any sustainability plan needs to start with a baseline. What is your carbon footprint now, and what are the sources of that footprint? You can break this question down into three main scopes:
• Scope one: The core CO2 emissions problem with your business.
• Scope two: Ancillary internal sustainability issues, some of which you may be able to address with 100% renewable electricity goals and carbon offsets.
• Scope three: How sustainable is your supply chain? What are your vendors doing?
For reasons related to transparency and complexity, scope three is usually the least certain. But there are groups out there that can help evaluate your carbon footprint or find other people and companies who are on the path to carbon neutrality, such as Climate Neutral, Carbon Neutral and the Climate Registry.
Integrate Climate Change Priorities Into Your Strategic Plan
Every company has a different hard problem around sustainability that they should be working on, especially the largest energy companies. They rely on drilling, risk ocean spills and need to get their oil into refineries and then cars, trucks and airplanes. But they could explore breakthroughs in green fuels that might enable them to have a significantly better impact. In my opinion, solving the hard problem is way more valuable than simply buying carbon offsets.
If you need a great reference for what can help solve climate change, get inspired with the solutions Project Drawdown discusses.
Enable More Remote Work
According to the EPA, transportation was the largest source of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2019, and light-duty vehicles made up the largest portion of that. If brands can reduce the frequency at which people drive into their offices and go on business trips, it could make the transition to a cleaner economy much easier.
Offset Your Carbon Footprint And Set Goals
Offset annual emissions now. Offsets are not perfect, but so long as they are used in conjunction with reductions, I believe companies should use them. Offsets pay for the projects and companies that can offset emissions at scale.
Set Goals For 100% Renewable Energy
Over the longer term, you’ll want to have a plan to transition to 100% renewable energy. You can start with office and manufacturing site usage. This is a large project, but the good news is that the International Energy Agency (via Carbon Brief) recently found that solar technology has become cheaper than coal and gas in most major countries, which makes financing clean energy projects more attractive. You should also consider using renewable energy for your driving fleets. Now that more companies are launching electric vehicles, there are more options to choose from than ever.
Develop A Carbon-Neutral Vendor Network
The larger your brand is, the more purchasing power you’re likely to have. But even if you aren’t large, you can always ask about your vendors’ sustainability plans. Just asking the question helps make that part of the conversation and helps you decide. If you’re a larger firm, you can make carbon neutrality plans a requirement in RFPs.
Launch A Carbon-Neutral Campaign
Once you have a sustainability plan, make sure to create a campaign around it. You should talk about climate change as a means to inspire action. Plus, your customers will probably appreciate it, and a public announcement will help create accountability for your brand. You will likely get a positive public response. However, even if you transparently share your methodology, there may still be some undercurrent of criticism that “this is just greenwashing.” But that response is an opportunity to win over that group’s trust by simply delivering on the climate promise. Earning more trust and contributing to positive change is a virtuous cycle that can inspire other people and brands to take action.
Publicly Support Climate Legislation As Part of Your Carbon-Neutral Campaign
Legislation is one of the largest levers for climate action, and business leaders can be a key congressional influence. Going beyond the carbon-neutral pledge to endorse specific policies you support can help encourage congressional representatives to take action.
Campaign Industry Associations For Climate Action
Getting involved with industry associations is often one of the core ways that businesses can lobby for policy change behind the scenes or amplify the industry’s larger message. For example, outdoor apparel companies have partnered with pro snowboarder Jeremy Jones’ Protect Our Winters, or POW. (Full disclosure: A nonprofit organization for which I’m a congressional liaison worked on a project with POW.)
I believe we all need to be doing the most we can as people and as brands. Policy change is a scalable way to address climate change, but brands can reduce their footprint now and help provide the public support necessary to pass policy changes and create a better future.