When a giant corporation like Apple, Driscoll’s, or L’Oreal truly commits to sustainable changes, it creates a massive positive impact. On the latest episode of the Good Together Podcast, co-hosts Laura Wittig and Liza Moiseeva turned to an expert on how big brands are behaving: Trista Bridges, founder of Read the Air & co-author of Leading Sustainably. We chatted about the big companies that are truly working towards a more sustainable future, as well as what consumers can do to educate themselves on these brands’ values.
Originally from the United States, Trista lived in France for several years before moving to Japan. Trista found a stark difference between France and Japan: how often the topic of sustainability came up. She was fascinated by how different cultures approach this topic, which led her to interview companies around the globe for her book.
L’Oreal: New Sustainability Ranking System
In the beauty industry, companies have two significant factors to consider regarding sustainability: traceability and packaging.
Being able to trace ingredients back to their origin allows brands to understand the environmental impact of their products. It’s the foundational information they need to improve their overall sustainability.
Packaging is often made from virgin plastic, and in most cases, it gets tossed once the product is finished. Some beauty companies are starting to test more sustainable packaging, such as refillable or reusable containers.
In June 2020, L’Oreal announced an A-E sustainability ranking system. As with most large companies, L’Oreal chose to start with just one of their child brands: Garnier. Garnier is very popular in Europe, where household appliances also receive an A-E sustainability ranking.
Apple: Carbon Neutral by 2030
As a 1.6 trillion dollar company, it’s difficult to overstate the enormous power and impact that Apple has on the economy and the environment. Apple created 25.1 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions in 2019, similar to the yearly emissions of countries like Cuba and Sri Lanka.
Recently, Apple announced their commitment to being carbon neutral by 2030—the same year laid out in the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Apple plans to reduce its emissions by 75%.
Doing this across a business as large and as complex as Apple is no easy feat. Everything from the sourcing of their materials to the design of their factories to their products’ lifecycle needs to change for them to meet this goal.
The complexity of the goal and the differing international standards means that it’s also challenging to measure progress, especially when most companies, including Apple, are self-reporting.
Danone: Becoming an International B-Corp by 2025
B-Corp certification can take many years for startups and multinational corporations alike. In the past, investors in companies saw B-Corp certification as a negative for shareholders because of the complexity and cost involved. Now, consumer demand for sustainably-produced goods means more companies are striving to become B-Corps.
Although Danone is known for yogurt in the United States, it’s portfolio also includes Silk almond milk, Horizon Organic milk, Wallaby Organic Dairy, Evian, and several other international dairy and water brands.
Danone has committed to becoming a certified B-Corp across all of their holdings by 2025. 30% of Danone’s sales are under B-Corp certified brands from their portfolio.
“I think what they're doing as well as they're really evolving more and the open discussion about what should a company be doing, and who is the company responsible to, and they clearly are saying we're responsible not just to our shareholders, we're also responsible to society,” says Trista.
Lego: Sustainable Packaging & Bricks Free of Fossil Fuel
As a company near and dear to consumers’ hearts, Lego is making significant strides to help the environment. Their goal is to be 100% sustainable by 2030.
Trista says that companies like Lego are responding to a consumer mindset shift. “The kind of oldest millennials, I believe, are like 37 or 38 and have children. They're bringing these values around better business into their purchasing decisions. And this is even more so for Generation Z...It's not like these companies are doing this just because this is a good thing to do, they're doing it because I think they sense the way the market is shifting. And the first place we see a lot of this is with people's children.”
Adidas: Shoes Made From Recycled Plastic Bottles
Adidas has partnered with Parley Ocean Plastic to use 100% recycled polyester by 2024. However, the shoes are not entirely recyclable, which creates issues when it comes to the end of the shoes’ life cycle.
“This is a really important thing, I think, for consumers to think about when they look at these types of products. It's really great to have these products as a first step. Absolutely. It's way better than nothing. And it helps solve a problem in terms of ocean plastics, which is a massive issue. But we also have to think about the entire lifecycle of the product, and what sustainability means,” says Trista.
Driscoll’s: Organic & Fair Trade Options
The popular berry giant started certifying a selection of its products as Organic and Fair Trade in 2016. They display the certifications on applicable berries.
“Organic” and “natural” were the first words that people could use to articulate what defines a better brand. As consumers, it’s still important to dig into what we think words like “organic” mean and what they are in real-life applications. Buying from brands that are certified in some way is always a great first step.
How Consumers Can Make More Sustainable Choices
Every company on this list is working towards a more sustainable future, as are most large brands. Even Coca-Cola has sustainable initiatives! So how can consumers understand which companies are genuinely invested versus those that are using sustainability as another marketing tactic?
Trista encourages us to choose brands that were built upon sustainable principles, such as Patagonia, Ben & Jerry’s, and Method Home. Companies that are newer to the sustainable movement require a little research on the consumer end.
Tips for a More Ethical, Sustainable Lifestyle
Before buying something new off the rack, Trista recommends scouring your local thrift or vintage store for a gently used item. It’s a great way to get what you want for a reasonable price and avoid the environmental impact of a brand new item.
Trista is also a fan of reading to learn more about environmental and social justice issues. She recommends Green Swans by John Elkington and Never Caught: The Story of Ona Judge by Kathleen Van Cleave and Erica Armstrong Dunbar (available in adult and children’s versions).
Favorite Ethical Brands
1. Ricci Everyday: This Japanese handbag company produces its goods in Uganda. The women who make the bags are paid a decent living wage, along with healthcare and retirement.
2. Lemonade Insurance: This tech-focused and transparent insurance company donates a percentage of their profits to charity and is a certified B-Corp. Sustainability doesn’t just apply to physical products anymore!
3. Keen: Known for its activewear shoes, Keen is cautious about adding new elements to their footwear. They won’t add a new sealant to their designs, for example, without making sure that the sealant won’t harm the environment. They also want their employees to be engaged in the issues that matter to them—they even have a booth in their offices where workers can call their congresspeople.
Resources We Mentioned
- Trista’s consulting company, Read the Air
- Trista’s book, Leading Sustainably