World Water Day: how businesses can take more action on water

Today is World Water Day! 🌊

Our Earth is called the “Blue Planet” because of the large water distribution on the surface of this planet. Yet, there is a lot of ‘hidden impact’ we are having on the blue of our planet.

Today we share four tips to do more on water stewardship as a business:

1 Start with your product

2 Take a close look at your supply chain

3 Don’t forget about waste

4 Collaborate on water achievements

1. Start with your product

Is water impact inherent to your product or service? Having much water in your product such as bottled water, sweetened drinks or laundry detergents can connect your business to sensitive issues related to the communities of which water is sourced. The world requires businesses to step up and become the solution to these issues instead of the problem.Better action: Spadel is on a continuous journey to take this role and this week they become B Corp certified, showcasing that they take significant actions on the positive impact their business model has and can have in the future. Last year, as part of our BIA advisory service – offered through the B Corp Way – we supported Spadel on an ad hoc basis specifically with supply chain and procurement-related assessment questions. One part of the much bigger puzzle in becoming B Corp Certified, but we are super proud of @Spadel for this achievement! More here.

2. Take a close look at your supply chain

Quite often clients of ours believe their water footprint to be insignificant. Their offices use very little water, or they offer products without water as an ingredient. It is often forgotten how water is a significant source to produce many raw materials, especially agricultural commodities and materials like plastics and metals (both in mining and manufacturing). To illustrate: cotton for one pair of jeans takes 8 liters of water, and the 5.3 liters of water is needed to produce a typical single-use PET plastic bottle. Companies that have their product in the ‘cloud’ such as e-commerce or web applications might forget their water impact, but a typical data center uses about 3-5 million gallons of water per day for cooling purposes (more here). So, great step companies can take is taking a closer look at the role of water in the supply chain of their product, platform, or packaging.Better actions: Companies are increasingly developing science based water targets and WWF offers a water risk filter tool which is a great tip to start understanding water in your supply chains. Companies such as Tchibo, Edeka, and H&M group are using it.

3. Don’t forget about waste

Waste is of a significant impact. First, polluted waste streams, such as plastics and hazardous chemicals, enter our water sources. But water in our manufacturing processes are also too rarely reused. In 2017, over 80 percent of the world's wastewater is released to the environment without treatment according to UN Water. Yet, Energy, clean water, fertilizers, and nutrients can be extracted from wastewater and used to help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.Better action: Ecofixe supports businesses and municipalities to biologically treat their wastewater. They do this with treatment solutions that create a positive social impact too.

4. Collaborate on water achievements

As showcased in the other examples much of the water impact of companies is made in tandem with others, such as suppliers, employees end consumers or other stakeholders. An important route into reducing your water footprint is to creatively activate people and joining in on the solution.Better actions: Companies are joining the CEO Water Mandate of the UN Global Compact, meant to tackle the water challenge from the top down and as well as the Alliance for Water Stewardship to align on action plans. Additionally, the Water Action Hub featuring all types of water projects. Already 1836 company projects are connected on the platform by companies such as Heineken, Danone and Dupont. To take employees or consumers along you can start with providing better insights into water footprints. For instance with the Personal water footprint or Product water footprint.

 

We hope to have provided you with some extra insights into taking actions on water for your business. Of course, there is much more work to do, and we are curious to hear your experience with water as a sustainability topic. Want to connect? ‘Drop’ us a line at Info@theterrace.nl.


Leading or Misleading in product communications: Know the sustainability and health context of your product

This blog is part of the blog series ‘Leading or Misleading’ on transparent product communications around sustainability and health. Read its intro here.

Say you have a product of which you would like to make consumers more aware of. You believe it offers sustainable and / or health benefits of which the consumer might not be aware. How to translate this aspect of your product? It all starts with knowing the aisle in which your product is positioned, and the role it takes – or is about to take – into and after a consumer’s life.

Ask questions about your own product
As a producer it’s important to understand the product (category) you are putting into the market. It’s always good to ask a lot of questions about your product.  What place is it going to take? Does it provide an alternative, or is it something completely new? What is it’s added value? How will it be transported or packaged? How and where will it be bought? How will it be thrown away?

Think about your product’s (potential) dilemma’s
Mistakes are made when you limit what information is accessible: e.g., biological food products can be said to be more sustainable because it refused chemical use, but as animals are more likely to grace outside it also increases methane pollution. The same can be said about avoiding plastic packaging in food products: if you avoid, you might also increase the risk of food waste. It is important to understand these complexities before you communicate them to the consumers. Plus, in reaching your products sustainability or health benefits you are highly reliant use phase of a product and the behavior of the consumer. For instance, it is also up to you to make sure the consumer recycles a product in the end or choses a product that fits their nutritious need. As an example: A US survey showed that of 86% of people that took vitamins or supplements, only 21% had the nutritional deficiency for that vitamin.

Doing product communications wrong
With single use plastics being increasingly banned across the world. McDonald’s switched to “eco-friendly” paper straws instead. It stopped using plastic straws, even though they were recyclable, in all its UK branches. The restaurant chain uses 1.8 million straws a day in the UK, so the move to paper was a significant step in helping to reduce single-use plastic. Customers were unhappy with the new straws, saying they dissolved before a drink could be finished. As a result, McDonald’s strengthened their paper straws. When implemented, the company discovered that the new paper straws ended up being too thick to be processed by their recycling partners. Now, petition has been initiated to bring back recyclable plastic straws at McDonald’s. It gained more than 50.000 signatures.

Doing product communications right
Placing your product in context can feel unnatural as it can result in you showcasing a negative impact of your product. You might have doubts if that’s what you want to promote. Tony’s Chocolonely did it anyway; and they got rewarded for their transparency. Tony’s Chocolonely is known as a brand that makes an impact. Which is easily leveraged by consumers to justify their over-consumption of a chocolate that still includes a lot of sugar. Tony’s admitted that they were part of the sugar problem that the world faces. They encourage the consumer to educate themselves, and not eat too much sugar. Additionally, they stated that they support the sugar tax beyond sugary drinks, and that they were going to adapt their labels and running campaigns to help their consumer make healthier choices. This was highly appreciated by many of their consumers. Looking at their LinkedIn posts, this post had a response of 15.5k likes, where the average post of Tony receives 200 likes. It seems like consumers like to hear the truth.

The truth of your product

It’s important that you translate to the consumer this context into which your product does or does not provide a sustainable or healthy alternative. With less room for misinterpretation. When you recognize the truth of your product, you can translate it to your customers. This way, you are leading, and not misleading. In our next blog we will talk more about how to avoid being a misleader by considering consumer perception

Know your product’s context - a checklist

  • I am aware of the wider problems and challenges around my product.
  • I understand the ways it does, and the ways it does not, provide a sustainable or healthy alternative.
  • My product has clear values and takes a stand on the issues.
  • I provide context to my claims so that they can’t be misinterpreted.
  • The entire story of my product (the good and bad) is clear and is ready to be shared.

This blog series is written by Romée Lasschuijt, Communication & Strategy Trainee and consumer behavior expert at The Terrace, and Eva Schouten, Sustainability Consultant and supply chain transparency expert at The Terrace.


Leading or Misleading: A blog series on being transparent in your product communications around sustainability and health.

Today is World Consumer Rights Day. A day for raising global awareness about consumer rights and needs. With an increasing request for sustainable products, consumers have the right to know where it comes from, under which conditions its produces and what the products (health) benefits really are.

 

The more conscious consumer

The consumer of today is actively trying to understand what they are buying, where it comes from, and under what conditions it is made. Data from Unilever shows that 64% of consumers pay more attention to the environmental impacts of what they consume since the pandemic. Likewise, searches for sustainable brands are up 40% on Google, and more than half of the growth in consumer-packaged goods is driven by sustainably marketed products, showcased by data of Unilever. Not only are consumers concerned by the impact of their purchasing decisions on the environment, they also want to know how this product relates to their own health. Rabobank’s research shows that 95% of Dutch people claim to specifically consider the health effects of the food that they buy.

 

Many sustainability and health claims

With this increase in demand, consumer wants brands to help them choose the right product and fittingly, transparency dominates the demand in 2022. However, in practice understanding the sustainability and health aspects of a product can still be confusing and too complex for consumers to make the right choices. Even for an informed person in the aisle, it is hard to understand all the information that they receive. This is not a surprise, as there are at least 455 sustainability certifications and labels in the world (a tip if you want to explore them ecolabelindex and standardsmap). All with similar iconography such as a tree, a green check, a leave, and words such as organic, bio, and eco. Despite their similarities, their representation differs. Next to understanding the logos, the packaging itself can confuse you, with additional visuals or claims that give the impression that a product is sustainable or healthy. Sadly, it is said that 40% of the claims are not even based on facts, according to an investigation of the International Consumer Protection Enforcement Network (ICPEN) in 2021.

 

Increased regulation

To prevent this, there is a demand for claims to be regularly checked and regulated. Those which are vague, and ambiguous are now being expected to provide clarity. The ACM (Authority Consumer & Market) in the Netherlands is for instance doing extensive research into the brands of big industries including clothes, energy, and dairy.  In a fast pace, companies are required to take further action on providing supporting evidence to the sustainability claims they are making. Making substantiated claims is also as part of the European Green deal. The time of ‘everything goes’ is ending. Maybe you, as a professional in the sustainability space, are confused on what you can and can’t do in terms of communicating towards consumers about a products’ sustainability or health benefits. This blog series is meant to help you articulate your product’s true story. Benefiting you, the consumer, and the world. You will see that the right form of transparency grows the demand for your product, and that by being honest (even when you are not the most sustainable or healthy product) you will gain consumer trust. Reading these blog series can be a very good first step to make sure that you are a leader, and not a misleader when it comes to driving everyday choices of your consumers around sustainable and healthy behaviors. And these behaviors could have an enormous impact on society and the environment.

 

A blog series on product sustainability & health

At The Terrace, we support businesses in sustainability strategy, implementation, and communications by looking at three levels:

  • Purpose – integrating and communicating purpose-led mission at the center of an organization
  • Practice – building and communicating a strategy with sustainability (or healthy) focused activities and upkeeping performance
  • Product – providing guidance and proof impact towards consumers on what they are buying

In this blog series we specifically focus on sustainability and health marketing at the product level. We take you through 3 steps with which you as a product, ingredient or category owner can help consumers make more informed sustainable and healthy product choices, in a leading way:

  1. Know the sustainability and health context of your product
  2. Understand your consumer's way of thinking
  3. Communicate clearly and transparently

Find the first blog ‘Know the sustainability and health context of your product’ here.

This blog series is written by Romée Lasschuijt, Communication & Strategy Trainee and consumer behavior expert at The Terrace, and Eva Schouten, Sustainability Consultant and supply chain transparency expert at The Terrace.


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!


Climate Neutral Group

Climate Neutral Group’s formula for maximum impact

This interview is part of The Terrace’s ‘1.5-degree society campaign’. In this series we ask professionals: how is your organization contributing to the 1.5-degree society? And – most importantly – what can other organizations learn from your experiences? We hope to inform and inspire other businesses to do even more and accelerate their impact. 

When Climate Neutral Group (CNG) was founded in 2002, they were one of the first organizations to fully focus on climate neutrality. Their mission is to accelerate the transition to a 'net-zero carbon' economy. CNG offers its clients advice on how they can reduce their climate impact and at the same time strengthen their business strategies. We spoke to Arjen Struijk, director NL, on how to strive for maximum impact.

What does positive change mean to you and what is your biggest, most important motive for investing in a sustainable future?
Positive change for me is about balance. Balance in what we use and what we give. For example, the balance in our use of natural resources and the diversity in our organisations. I believe that balance comes from being in open contact with yourself, others and the environment you work in. It allows you to receive feedback and with the intention of balance you can realise positive change. At Climate Neutral Group, balance is about aiming for zero emissions. Or even less, to balance others’ emissions.

How do you stay focused on your sustainability targets when so many things are changing in society, among which Covid-19, which influences nearly every cornerstone of the world?
When Covid-19 initially hit, our team went into survival mode. We feared the world would stop thinking about climate change all together. That feeling lasted for two weeks. Then, slowly but surely, some of our existing clients picked up the phone again, saying they wanted to continue the work we started.”

This kept us going. And then new clients also started calling: companies like WeTransfer, Exact software, BloomOn and an Italian coffee brewer wanted help with their transition to net-zero emissions. Of course, we do see some of our clients being hit hard by the virus. Especially those in the travel industry. But for many companies, climate change is now a topic they want to address, more than even before. I really hope that other B Corp companies have the same experience and see that their stakeholders and particularly their customers continue to choose sustainable.

What do you see as the biggest sustainability challenge for CNG at the moment and in the future?
We need all organisations on board, to reduce their CO2-emissions. But for now, we are still mostly working with innovators and early adopters. This is our balancing act. We want momentum to continue with the innovators as they are a source of inspiration but should not become so advanced in our advice and Climate Neutral certification that we become irrelevant for the rest. To make a maximum impact, we need to grow as an organisation and also work with organisations who are not in the frontline (yet).

What message would you like to pass on to other companies that are striving to create sustainable and social impact?
Strive to maximise your impact at all times. Look further than the boundaries of your own business model and be fearless! The formula for maximum impact is: ‘difference made’ x ‘volume’. Be critical of the role you can play in this and where you need others to maximize positive change.

Curious about the other articles of our '1.5 degree society campaign'? Last time we spoke with Bibianne Roetert from Lipton on how they are closing the loop on plastic waste.


How an ambition became the norm

Closing the loop on plastic waste at Lipton: How an ambition became the norm

This interview is part of The Terrace’s ‘1.5-degree society campaign’. In this series we ask professionals: how is your organization contributing to the 1.5-degree society? And – most importantly – what can other organizations learn from your experiences? We hope to inform and inspire other businesses to do even more and accelerate their impact. 

One key shift towards a 1.5-degree society is closing the loop on waste. With a growing business there comes a downside too: an increase in sales leads to the production of more plastic waste. Lipton, a hot and iced tea brand of Unilever, has the ambition to become a fully circular brand. Bibianne Roetert worked as a brand manager at Unilever and took a leading role in making Liptons’ plastic bottles 100% recycled and fully recyclable. The Terrace spoke with her on how she took these steps. What experience can she share for other businesses to sustain and accelerate the positive change necessary for the 1.5-degree society?

When did you realize that change was needed?
That was when I calculated, together with my colleagues, the impact of the plastic production of our bottles. It turned out to be immense. Yearly we use 1.400 tonnes of plastic for 60 million bottles. When making our plastic bottles recycled and recyclable, we reduce the CO2 impact with more than 40%. After a three-day conference back in 2018, in which one of the days was totally devoted to sustainability, we became very motivated in changing the course of our plastic use. I also had a personal urge and conviction that there was still a lot of value to be added to Lipton as a brand, which could contribute more to our planet. Only looking at monetary profits did not satisfy me when the plastic pile was growing together with the growth of the brand. Still, there was not yet a concrete plan on paper on what I thought I could do about it.

How did that go?
My manager challenged me to create this plan and I asked him for 2 months to understand the full lifecycle of plastic bottles in order to build a plan on ambitious yet realistic targets. He agreed. During those months I learned about the benefits of using recycled plastic and investigated whether Lipton could start with making all Dutch festival bottles from 100% recycled plastic, which could significantly lower our impact. That is where we wanted to start. While we were still investigating whether we could move all bottles to 100% rPET, we already started our communication during ADE Green 2018. There we pledged to be a fully circular brand at festivals in 2019. By already communicating about this bold step towards festivals and consumers, the ball started to roll faster and further.

How did that feel?
That was a cool and exciting time. We already promised the festival audience to make steps forward, so going back wasn’t an option anymore. Because we had made it so tangible, the urge was really there to get all the (technical) heads together and go for the grail.

It almost seems that you were running a political campaign and you were advocating to create a movement...
Sometimes it almost felt like that, there was such a clear mission. The advantage was that people saw me as the lead on this journey and knew that they could ask me anything about this topic so they could become experts too. There was a lot of respect and excitement that Lipton was taking a leading role in using recycled plastic.

In the end, you – and eventually your company – get the most energy by setting targeted and ambitious goals. Especially when you reach them!

It sounds like a fairy-tale, but no change comes without bumps on the road, I can imagine?
Exactly, the biggest obstacles were the technical implications. For example, there seemed to be a lack of availability of high quality recycled plastic in the beginning and along the way there were challenges with running all the tests in the factories in time. At those times I sometimes worried that we’d had to withdraw our commitment.

Yet, you did not?
Certainly not, we succeeded in making all the festival bottles of 100% recycled plastic in 2019. In fact, all our Lipton bottles in the Netherlands and Belgium are 100% recycled and fully recyclable since Q1 2020. We were the first soft drink brand to realize 100% rPET usage on such a scale in the Netherlands. We are now rolling this out to all the other countries in which Lipton is sold. We notice that the sentiment around the brand has positively changed. Also, we see internally that everyone believes in the brand and its mission, which results in a good and proactive atmosphere. It created a lot of wins in the end.

You now switched to Unox, another Unilever brand, a few months ago. What kind of experience would you share with other professionals working on similar challenges?
First, always try to understand how the lifecycle of your product works. What possible improvements are there to make? You have to gather as much knowledge as possible so that you can put everything in perspective. This is important for every industry, from plastics to meat. Second, pick one point on the horizon so everyone knows where to follow you. And last but not least: consistently keep moving towards that point. And this is easier said than done.

Are there any thoughts/last famous words you would like to share?
Ultimately, a lot of people are not aware of the impact they could personally make. They say: "I think it's special and I understand it’s important, but in my company it is not (yet) possible". I think it is important to motivate people and let them think more critically about what role they can play in a company, and that more is possible than you might think. Challenge yourself and don’t be afraid to challenge your surroundings. In the end, you – and eventually your company – get the most energy by setting targeted and ambitious goals. Especially when you reach them! Mark my words: Ultimately anyone can do it. It is possible in all companies and in all cases. It's about turning your (sky-high) ambitions into actions, as we did by introducing our 100% festival bottle.

In this series, The Terrace asks its network how they are contributing to the 1.5-degree society and what other organizations can learn from that. Last time we spoke with Lipton on how they are closing the loop on plastic waste. The last time we spoke with ASICS about their dare to focus.


Call it by its name: A plea to cherish the brave brands that accelerate the plant protein transition

It’s Dutch Food Week this week. This means all eyes are on (innovation) in the Dutch food sector for 7 days straight. One area where our global food sector is heading up against is the shift to a more plant-based diet. This shift is urgently needed to reach the climate goals we have set. Luckily, more and more brands take up the challenge to steer the transition, by enabling the mainstream consumer to switch their loved, known, products to more sustainable, also loved alternatives. Yet, while there is little time to lose when it comes to increase sustainable diets, somehow, we got stuck discussing the naming of these food products are allowed to have. I completely agree to provide consumers with more clarity and transparency, but it seems to me that we are losing focus on what really matters here.

Plant-based naming and labelling under pressure The plant-based food market is booming in Europe and predicted to grow further in the coming years. The market is expected to increase to 2.4bn euros in 2025, from 1.5bn euros in 2018.

On the 20th of October the European Parliament will vote on the proposed ban on the use of ‘meatish’ and ‘dairyish’ names for plant-based products. This could ban the widely accepted and commonly used terms, such as ‘veggie burger,’ or ‘plant-based steak’. This while a recent survey by the European Consumer Organisation (BEUC) demonstrates that EU consumers are overwhelmingly in favor of the use of meat-related terms for plant-based foods. The report shows that more than 68% of consumers support 'meaty' names for plant-based food products, as long as the products are transparently clearly labelled as plant-based or vegetarian. This because they then recognize the product they are looking for.

Brands respond bravely Just as bravely as plant-based brands are picking up the challenge to lead the protein transition, they are responding to this news. When Abbot Kinney's received a letter that they should not label their product as word yoghurt, they quickly responded that they themselves don’t want to carry that label either. They stated:

“The name yoghurt does not suit us. As our yog does not hurt.  Because, we care about our environment, health, climate agreement, agricultural land, gut, animal welfare, rain forests and planet. So, we keep the yog, and skip the 'hurt'.”

The Vegetarische Slager responded this week stating that products have all types of names that are not to be taken literally in general. Think ‘chicken fingers’ and the Dutch dish ‘Slavink’. Online people supported the brands’ message by sharing an Instagram message with ‘I am not confused’ and tagging the European Parliament.

What's in a name: for better labeling let’s focus on health and sustainability. The thing about this discussion is that it focuses on providing clarity where consumers are not lacking any. Not the name of a product and where it is located in the supermarket isles is confusing for consumers, but what the product consists of, how and by whom it is made and what nutritional quality of food is. Much is happening here, with the Nutri-score for instance, but at a brand level there are more and endless opportunities to communicate better and more transparently on food products. I believe this is what we should all focus on. Not just for plant-based brands but all food brands in general.

My hope is that we can provide space for innovative brands to challenge the status quo and move away from having semantic discussions on the naming of products. I cannot help but think what would be next: alcohol free beer becomes a hop-drink? I hope we will focus on what really matters: providing consumers with transparent, healthy and sustainable food products. I would love to hear: what do you think?


ASICS: Dare to focus

This interview is part of The Terrace's '1.5-degree society campaign'. In this series we ask professionals: how is your organization contributing to the 1.5-degree society? And - most importantly - what can other organizations learn from your experiences? We hope to inform and inspire other businesses to do even more and accelerate their impact. 

What if we are not committed to take any actions on climate change and limit global warming to 1.5-degrees? In the future, will it still be possible for people to enjoy outdoor sports in a sustainable environment? Or will having a city walk without the constant smell of smog be unimaginable by 2050?

Reason enough for ASICS to take continuous action: “Going forward, we will continue to act for future generations to achieve a sound mind in a sound body and address the climate change.’’ said Yasuhito Hirota, COO and President of ASICS Corporation, this September. To suit the action to the word they joined the RE100, the global environmental initiative composed of member companies committed to relying solely on renewable energy for their electricity needs in business activities.

We’re happy to see that ASICS takes a clear stance in accelerating their change and impact. We were able to ask the CSR & Sustainability team at ASICS EMEA, some questions on their challenges and learnings in contributing to the 1.5-degree society: 

What does positive change mean to you and what is your biggest, most important motive for investing in a sustainable future?
In the light of a 1.5-degree society, positive change would be the active involvement of all stakeholders that will enable us to fight climate change together. Not only us as a brand, but also our suppliers, customers and end consumers. We need to realize we all play a role in successfully changing the way we consume resources and impact our environment. I believe sports brands can play a positive role in changing the behaviour of people to reduce the impact we have on our planet.

How do you stay focused on your sustainability targets when so many things are changing in society, among which Covid-19, that influences nearly every cornerstone of the world?
This is indeed a challenge. At the same time some of the changes and crises in society like Covid-19 have also really helped people to realize that something needs to happen. So despite the many challenges, pressure on continuity of businesses and the economy, at all levels (authorities, institutions, companies and individual level) there is more motivation and determination to change than ever before. We also see a momentum of people and businesses being more open and receptive to big changes now, that we can also use to make changes toward more sustainable business actions, such as switching to digital services for sports and e-commerce sales growing dramatically. This can boost some of our sustainability programs even in these challenging times.

And are there any big bumps on the road that holds ASICS from going forward and hinder this progress?
For many team sports, people need to come together, which is a challenge in the lockdown situation that people are facing in many countries. However, due to the scale of this pandemic, there is a great push to develop alternatives to that, and at the same time more people are reverting to individual sports such as running in order to stay healthy and sound. Either way, the bumps on the road are not holding us back in the end, only delaying some people a little.

What do you see as the biggest sustainability challenge for ASICS at the moment and in the future?
With Climate Action and our CO2 reduction targets being the backbone of our environmental sustainability strategy, a big challenge lies with circularity. As a product driven brand, about 80% of our GHG emissions are so called indirect emissions and originate from processes that involve the materials, manufacturing and end of life stage of our products. There are still many challenges in truly converting into a circular business model. Some of them are technical and some of them also operational and involves the entire industry rather than only our company and its value chains.

What message would you like to pass on to other companies that are striving to create sustainable and social impact?
Focus. As a person and as an organization you cannot be and do everything. At ASICS, a lot of what we do has started with research. So, we would always suggest taking time for a good assessment. Take a close look at your organization and how you operate and where your – both positive and negative- impact lies. Although you can take a lot of inspiration and valuable learnings from others, you could sometimes feel pressure to start moving on a topic because of pressure from external stakeholders or other parts of your organization, but you will achieve the most impact if your sustainability and social ambitions are truly matching the nature of your business.


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.


Eva Schouten

Moving towards a circular food system: The Terrace presents at the Erasmus Food Lab

On the 26th of November The Terrace consultants Eva Schouten and Luca Goossens visited the Erasmus Food Lab in Rotterdam to give a talk on circularity and specifically a circular food system.

About the Erasmus Food Lab
The Erasmus Food Lab aims to set an example of sustainable food culture, bringing consumers, researchers, cooks and food entrepreneurs, and professionals together. At the Food Lab you find everything needed to accelerate (local) food transition: information and guidance for sustainable strategies, an organic vegetable garden, a collection point for local produce from farmers in the area, a  great spacious kitchen and many, many dedicated students that want to drive positive change.

Getting serious about food
When the delicious vegan dishes were ready to be served, we facilitated a session about key strategies for closing the loop in our broken food system. Creating urgency for the matter isn’t hard with facts that speak for themselves:

  • Currently, the agrifood industry is responsible for almost a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions globally
  • 1/3rd of our food is currently wasted
  • 24 million slices of bread are tossed out each day in the U.K. alone
  • In cities, less than 2% of the valuable biological nutrients in food by-products and organic waste is composted or otherwise valorized
  • At current consumption levels, we will run out of known phosphorus reserves in around 80 years, which forms the basis of the fertilisers used widely in agriculture

The solution hierarchy
Luckily, there are serious opportunities out there for turning the tide around. After all, the world’s best dishes were made from food leftovers, Pot au feu is made of waste vegetables, bouillabaisse is the fish that’s damaged or bruised or unmarketable for the moment. However, we didn’t come to talk about recipes – we are sustainability consultants not chefs. We presented the best ways to turn food waste into value based on the EPA Food Recovery Hierarchy and ages old circular farming methods like using manure as a fertilizer, functioning as phosphorous too. Food waste can for instance be used as animal feed, an initiative already widely applied in Japan, the feed is known to be rich in lactobacillus bacteria, which eliminates the need for antibiotics, and farmers save 50 percent of the cost of regular feed.

For the circular economy local communities are key
Cities across the world have a unique opportunity to spark a transformation towards a circular economy for food, given that 80% of all food is expected to be consumed in cities by 2050, as stated Ellen McArthur in their Cities and Circular Economy for Food report. Cities can, in connection with local farmers, spark the transition towards a circular economy. Creating a circular economy requires an industrial-scale response, but this can be complemented by a community-based response and associated physical infrastructure, such as maker-spaces, labs, community technology workshops and any other community-based forms, more about this in this insightful blog.  We left the event hopeful as the energy and amount of initiatives already initiated at the Erasmus Food Lab clearly show that they are well on their way to become such an accelerator for circularity. We hope to have provided them with some inspiration to take along on their journey!