“When the last tree is cut, the last river poisoned, and the last fish dead, we will discover that we can’t eat money…” -Native American saying
Corporate America is not often a compassionate place. There are gestures of kindness and responsibility from most companies that help soften their images, but there are, fortunately, many companies that have social and environmental responsibility at their core, understanding that while businesses should turn a profit, they should also be a welcome presence on this planet.
Whole Foods is working to reduce their environmental impact on several fronts. Most corporations that are “going green” try to reduce their energy consumption and Whole Foods is no exception. They updated several of their existing stores with items like solar panels and fuel cells, which, along with other efforts have reduced their energy usage per foot by 6% since 2008.
But Whole Foods doesn’t stop there. They strive to help the environment through multiple impact points along the journey their products take. This involves labeling standards on a wide range of products from the way seafood is caught to the organic certifications on cleaning products. The idea is to give consumers information to make good decisions and know which companies’ practices they want to support. And this also adds pressure on companies to act more responsibly and rewards companies that do.
One of the companies you’ll find at Whole Foods is Annie’s, one of the largest producers of organic food in the United States. Their biggest impact is in how they change how we get our food without the use of pesticides and herbicides which almost always find their way into our water supply.
Annie’s understands that much of their impact on the environment comes through the farming process and works with suppliers to reduce this impact, but they are also working on their direct impact. They have already made serious reductions to their waste production in their home office, reducing landfill waste from 47 to 29 tons from 2011 to 2012 and continuing to push for a zero landfill office.
Being a company whose customer base is outdoor enthusiasts, it’s no surprise a company like Patagonia would hold environmental responsibility in high regard, but they take it well beyond what most outdoor equipment manufactures do.
Patagonia’s origin goes back to developing a more environmentally friendly way to rock climb, and although that part of the company has branched off into Black Diamond, Patagonia continues to pioneer ways that businesses can help protect the planet. One of the more common approaches they took was examining all the materials that went into their products, which now includes organic cotton and fleece made from recycled plastic bottles and other fleece jackets.
One of the most notable actions Patagonia took was their Black Friday ad from 2011 telling customers “Don’t buy this jacket,” and launching their Common Threads Initiative, encouraging people to think more deliberately about their consumption habits and to buy less and buy better. This is just one example of the sacrifice the company is willing to take in order to ensure a planet we can continue to live on and play outside for generations. Another would be there commitment to donating 1% of sales (not profit) to grassroots environmental groups.
Sprint has been leading the way in the tele-com world in terms of environmental responsibility. Electronics companies take a huge toll on the environment with the need for rare-earth metals. This has been significantly compounded by the consumer trend to constantly be buying the latest devices to replace perfectly functional ones they already own that often end up in a landfill.
Among their initiatives, Sprint’s buyback program has collected over 40 million devices, and isn’t exclusive to just buying back Sprint-Nextel phones. The goal here is to reduce waste and the need for mining by reclaiming old phone components and materials to reuse or recycle.
Sprint also worked to create the first environmental standards for mobile phones, and is actively working towards a 20% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2017.
Method produces household cleaning and personal care products that are safe for people and environmentally friendly. They use only recycled plastic in their bottles and never test on animals, as well as combining a biodiesel fleet with an EPA SmartWay Transport member to reduce the carbon footprint left from shipping their products. And all their products are created from natural, responsibly harvested ingredients and the end products are biodegradable so no toxins are left for future generations.
They’ve also started using what they refer to as “ocean plastic” in some of their bottles. This is plastic produced from a mix of post-consumer recycled plastic and plastic found on beaches and in oceans that poses a threat to marine life.
In looking at these companies, and many others that are doing their part to help the environment, we see some common traits. We see an understanding of our situation on this planet. We see people who know that can only fix a small part of the problem but who act accordingly any way. And we see that customers react fiercely. These companies don’t just have customers, they have loyal followers and evangelists, because the people that spend their money supporting these companies often do so because of an alignment of values.