What to lookout for: climate friendly products do not make climate friendly companies

Photo by Nico Smit on Unsplash
Photo by Nico Smit on Unsplash

A climate friendly product does not make a climate friendly brand or organization, and this holds true for the overall sustainability of organizations as well. What should you be looking for to ensure what you are buying actually supports your climate friendly values?
To understand this paradox, two issues need to be explained.
First, every product or services that we use has a supply chain and a life cycle, whether it is an application on your phone, a lotion that you use each day, or a fruit that you eat. Second, brands are owned by organization, and some organizations have many brands under their control.
Supply Chain and Life Cycle Analysis
A supply chain boils down to the fact that it takes the operations of a lot of different organizations (e.g. the links in a chain) to get a product or service to you. As an example, an application on your phone requires the company who operates the software, the companies proving the data servers and telecom networks, and the companies providing electricity to run it all. That is the simple version! Some products may have over a dozen companies behind producing and getting the product or service to you.
A life cycle analysis (often called an “LCA”) then tells both the good and bad impacts which happen at each of the links of the supply chain and adds to this what happens after you use the product or service.
Organizations may have many brands
All organizations have a brand, the name you associate to the company, but some organization have many brands, and a few organizations have over a hundred brands, all producing hundred or thousands of products or services. The problem of greenwashing often comes up in this context when a large organization showcases one ‘sustainable’ brand, but neglects to point out the other brands that they control are not sustainable. The same goes for their products. On the flip side there are a few large organizations that have secret sustainable brands, that they do not market loudly.

Five tips to evaluate the climate impact of organizations and brands

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The question is how can we as individuals sort out these two issue to make sure that the product or service we use meets our climate friendly or sustainable values? Here are five great tips.
1. Quick Profile Check of the Organization
In less than two minutes you can check on the climate and sustainable profile of an organization, including their goals, actions, and real results. This can be done on Enablesus which focuses on transparency in the sustainability of organizations and their brands.
2. Look at Organization GHG Emissions
Look into the latest sustainability report of the organization and seen how they are doing in reducing their overall greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and adapting to climate change risks. Usually it is communicated in only a few pages in the report. The key is to search for “Scope 1” and “Scope 2” emissions which come from direct activities of the company. Then look at the “Scope 3” emissions that show the additional Supply Chain and a Life Cycle Emissions, outside a company's fence. The trick here is seeing how large a circle (the boundary) they draw around Scope 3. For example, if milk production includes the cow and farm in the boundary, then the GHG emissions measured will be ten times great than not including them. Organization sustainability reports can also be found on Enablesus along with useful links to additional information.
3. Did an Independent Party Agree
Is there an actual third-party assurance (audit) of the organizations GHG emissions, and/or a qualified third party certification of the GHG emissions impact of the product or service. The last one has a drawback because in some cases a third-party certification uses average industry data, and not the actual activity data from the company. This is something to also lookout for because a cucumber produced in Denmark has a much higher GHG emissions impact than one produced in Spain, because in Spain they are not grown in greenhouses.
4. What Do Others Say
Read what other people are saying about the organization, the good and bad climate / sustainable impacts of the companies and/or their brands can be found on We Don’t Have Time.
5. Comparing Helps Identify Misleading Information
Comparing is always a good way to evaluate products and services, including identifying misleading or oversized climate and sustainability claims. This includes companies providing the same type of product or service. The example of a milk producer is great here, producer one says they reduced our GHG emissions by 40%, and producer two says they achieved a 4% reduction. When a person compares the organization GHG emission of both (point 2 above), this shows that producer one did not account for the cows and farms in their Scope 3 emissions, where producer two did.
The great thing about Point 1 (Enablesus) is that it is quick, easy, and free. The next great thing about Points 2 through 5 is that once you research about one company you will remember it and can focus on (or not) buying from that company and brand in the future.

This article is prepared by Douglas Marett the Managing Director of Enablesus.
(9 December 2021)

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