Earth day: 5 ways to make your business work for nature

Let’s do earth-centered business. Earth-day is the day to celebrate the beautiful things our planet has to offer, but also a day to demonstrate support for environmental protection. Yesterday we already announced our new CEO at The Terrace: mother nature. In our work, and in our support to our clients, we always try to think of the planet as a stakeholder.  And with planetary resources under stress, and 10 years left to reach the Sustainable Development Goals, there’s quite some work to do. At the same time, there are companies, big and small, that have the ability to not be a force of stress, but a force of good for nature and our planet at large. Here's a list of 5 ways to not focus on the ‘less bad’ but on the ‘more good’ for our earth.

1. Get ready to regenerate

Is your business model earth-positive? Sustainability has too long been about doing less harm, or reaching net zero, whilst companies have the ability to do much more. It is clear for everyone, including consumers, that reducing negative effects are no longer enough. According to a study by ReGenFriends nearly 80% US consumers prefer “regenerative” brands to “sustainable” brands as they find the term “sustainable” too passive. And we agree. The current state of the world needs companies that restore the health of individuals, communities and the planet.

A good example here is Interface, the world’s leading modular carpet manufacturer. As part of their Climate Take Back mission, whose goal is to reverse global warming, Interface piloted the “Factory as a Forest” initiative. Their production plant gives back to the ecosystem more than it takes —such as clean air and energy, potable water, carbon sequestration, and nutrient cycling. Next to that, Interface launched the world’s first carbon-negative carpet tiles, which sequester more carbon—from raw material extraction through manufacturing—without using offsets. Transforming your business model regenerative is not something that will happen overnight, but much more is possible than you might think.

2. Make global goals local business

Planetary challenges such as climate change are global challenges that require local solutions. Take big worldwide roadmaps, such as the SDGs, and use them as a framework of action across all your business operations. Tools such as the SDG Action manager developed by B Lab  and the SDG toolbox by the UN Global Compact can give you a good sense on how you can drive change.

Natura & Co, the group behind Avon, Natura, The Body Shop and Aesop, is a good example of a company that internalized the SDGs and brought it to the heart of different company and brand strategies. The company is not only prioritizing sustainability objectives and SDG’s, but it has also defined clear indicators to measure and track it’s progress.

3. Stay transparent

A good way to keep your focus and hold yourself – as a business – accountable is by adopting a common, standardized sustainability framework to track and disclose your progress. Applying common frameworks, such as s B Corp Certification, also helps you to better work together with partners such as peers, governments and NGOs.

An example of a company providing transparent insights is fashion and clothing company Reformation. The company publishes all environmental and social impact of its products in all communications and detailed information on their sourcing and supply chain. Another example is Buffer, a social media management software startu that takes financial transparency to the next level by publishing the salaries of all employees, complete with factors like local cost of living and prior experience. Buffer also keeps a public tracker of its own diversity numbers and actively encourages suppliers to follow transparency guidelines.

4. Build a movement

Companies are big influencers and play an important role in people’s daily life, such as for consumers or employees. A company can become a good ‘ally’ for the planet when it raises its voice, leverages awareness, and gets people to take action. Another key area for businesses here is the supply chain. Companies can drive significant impact by advocating and collaborating with suppliers to go further together.

For Ben & Jerry's activism and marketing on climate action and racial justice has been the brand's modus operandi for years. The company has been calling upon consumers, employees and leaders of developed nations to take action for climate change. Ben & Jerry’s also is one of the most prominent brands to speak out in support of the Black Lives Matter movement encouraging people to tackle systemic and institutionalised racism. Next to brand activism, the company worked closely together with suppliers such as Sustainable Harvest, Rhino Foods and Greyston Bakery on social and environmental ambitions.

5. Roll up your sleeves

Achieving earth’s sustainability is complex and overwhelming. What businesses have to add, is the creativity and capacity to move fast and get into gear. Of course companies need to start with integrating sustainability goals at the heart of their business strategy, but beyond that, there are many playful and interactive ways that companies can lead activations. And small actions can make a big difference.

Patagonia has been striving to be an environmentally friendly business for more than twenty years. One percent of their revenue goes to environmental organisations. Additionally, the company organizes workshops where consumers learn how to repair their own clothing and belongings. Similar to Patagonia, Fairphone enables consumers to organize their own Urban mining workshop, extracting valuable minerals from old mobile phones. 

Are you inspired to take earth-positive actions? Or have additional ideas other businesses should know about? Let us know!


What the Oatly-controversy teaches us about the demand for transparency

What the Oatly-controversy teaches us about the demand for transparency

The Oatly-controversy

You probably heard already, Oatly has made the decision to sell a stake in the company to a consortium that includes Blackstone, a powerful private equity firm headed by Trump donor Stephen Schwartzman. Blackstone, in its turn, is allegedly investing in projects that link to deforestation in the Amazon rainforest. This hit me quite hard, as I am actually a great Oatly enthusiast myself. Oatly was the first plant-based alternative that has made me ditch milk. And just like every first relationship, it holds a unique place my heart. And I can't disagree with Oatly choosing Blackstone as an investor to be controversial, but, from a consumer point of view, I do not think that it is just this partnership that is making Oatly fans to call out to 'cancel’ the brand. I believe this comes from the consumer demand for radical transparency.

Transparency of investment matters too

Of course, similar to the Unilever buying Ben & Jerry’s and The Vegetarian Butcher and Alpro joining Danone, these shifts make people uneasy. This comes along when sustainable brands move from niche to mainstream. There are definitely more ethical investors I wish Oatly had chosen for, but it can be true that in this case these lacked the punching power that Blackstone has and Oatly needs. But consumers are interested in (read also: critical of) how these mainstream investors are willing to change their portfolios and position themselves as ‘a force for good’. In this regard, I disagree with the words of Nick Cooney, Managing Director of Lever VC quoted in Justfood.nl: ‘Who a food company receives investment from is not one of the things that consumers seem to care about.’. I think the case of Oatly proves that actually, consumers care. According to several brand studies, over 90 percent of consumers say transparency by a brand is important to their purchase decisions. Financial transparency is just as much part of this as the traceability of key ingredients. Consumers want to know how the profit of Oatly – which comes from their purchases - is reinvested responsibly.

Transparency means owning up to mistakes

I believe that Oatly has underestimated the expectations for radical transparency by consumers, especially coming from their key audience: sustainability minded people that try to shop consciously. After all, Oatly itself actively advocates for consumers to think critically about the dairy industry and to expect transparency. In big letters on their packaging it says: ‘Hey, food industry show us your numbers’. The lack of communications up front and the lack of clarity on the agreements between Oatly and Blackstone is why Oatly’s biggest fans now start to doubt the brand. It also does not help that as the critique explodes online, the tone of the company strikes many as too defensive and seems to blame the critical consumer as ‘unable to see the bigger picture’. See below a snapshot into the discussions.

From the bad to the promising

So, did I lose my belief in first love Oatly? Well, no. In our work at The Terrace we believe successful positioning of a company’s sustainability is all about covering ’the good’, ’the bad’ and ’the promising’. Oatly so far been an example of a brand that shows what’s not going well; their 2018 sustainability report stated on the front cover: ‘Slightly worse than last year’ for instance. I don’t think that 'canceling’ the brand will help in any way. I see the current discussion as part of a positive development where consumers ask questions and hold corporations accountable for their actions. And whilst I will open up my monogamous relationship status with Oatly, I hope that the brand will learn from it, comes back with more transparency on their financial decision-making and then keeps making waves in their industry. In other words: Hey Oatly show us your numbers!

I am curious what you think though: are you still on board the Oatly revolution? And do you believe the investor-relation itself or the lack of transparency is an issue? Show me your opinion about this article by sending me an email.