Beyond looking at the empirical measures or philosophies of sustainability, it can be highly valuable to examine the leaders (and failures) of sustainability in practice. The practice of sustainability has many component parts representing a very wide spectrum of ideas and material concerns, and with a seemingly infinite number of potential blends to be created in implementation:
The Emotional and the Rational
The Massive and the Minute
The Progressive and the Regressive
The Global and the Local
The Aspirational and the Tactical
A goal throughout this course will be therefore to understand both ends of the spectrum, map and distil the choices made by sustainability programs, and understand the opportunities created for the organization. As we understand more deeply, we may begin to understand how we can create spaces and niches for sustainability-driven innovation within any organization, and in an integrated and seamless way.
Below are three examples of initiatives within organizations leading the way in Planet-oriented sustainability initiatives, ranging from the billion-dollar Interface to the 47 employee Full Sail Brewing Co. From there, we will take a brief look into the component parts of each initiative, what Planet aspects they leverage, and how they uniquely create value for the organization.
Watch the following 16 minute video: The Business Logic of Sustainability. While it is not a "summary", it is a great story from an unlikely pioneer of sustainability.
Video: Ray Anderson: The business logic of sustainability (16:39)
Ray Anderson's sustainability epiphany was the inspiration, and his position and conviction allowed him to apply significant resources to solving the problems of the carpet tile lifecycle. Regardless of whether it was guilt of a founder nearing retirement or the inspiration of a book, Ray Anderson devoted himself to creating a sustainable legacy.
Creating an offering of "climate neutral carpet" to a primarily commercial building market. Importantly, the timing would be ideal, as this was happening when LEED, recycled materials, and sustainable sourcing in architecture were gaining significant headway. Interface would become the first sustainable carpet tile in a market where sustainable materials and surfaces were becoming a requirement.
GRI Planet Aspects
- Materials used by weight or volume(G4-EN1)
- Percentage of materials used that are recycled input materials(G4-EN2)
- Direct greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (Scope 1) (G4-EN15)
- Extent of impact mitigation of environmental impacts of products and services (G4-EN27)
- Percentage of products sold and their packaging materials that are reclaimed by category (G4-EN28)
Significant, and with its foundations in Ray Anderson himself. While much of the original vision for infinitely recyclable, "climate neutral carpet" may have started with Mr. Anderson, it became a serious engineering, chemical, and logistical challenge to execute. It would be fascinating to learn if the profit and market share gains experienced were part of the early Interface vision, or if they turned out to be fortunate byproducts of what might have otherwise been considered a sunk-cost program. It would be an interesting learning experience to see what kind of test or Beta program Interface could have been established to understand the gains they were walking into for their nearly half a billion dollar investment.
The Interface Mission is extremely lofty, but one on which the company has done significant work and devoted significant resources to help make happen. Interface describes its Mission as:
"What drives us? A positive vision of the future and the determination to make it come true. The moral courage to do what is right, despite all obstacles. An abiding commitment to show that sustainability is better for business. We believe that change starts with us and is transforming Interface from a plunderer of the earth to an agent of its restoration. Through this process of redesigning ourselves, we hope to be a catalyst for the redesign of global industry."
Significant. After the establishment of their original ReEntry process to recycle used carpet into 100% recycled carpet tiles, it tackled the issue of used commercial fishing nets washing up on shores worldwide. It not only developed a process to recycle this notoriously difficult material, but also partnered with the Zoological Society of London to establish a "community-based supply chain" by which communities in the Philippines could clear their beaches and reefs of the nylon nets while being paid for the material.
The Interface story has become one of the most hailed sustainability stories of the last 20 years, gaining attention everywhere from Forbes and the Wall Street Journal to Triple Pundit. The story of Interface has gone on to influence countless other businesses as to the possibilities of sustainability.
Interestingly, Interface has not issued a CSR for some years, and is fairly limited on metrics. So despite spending millions on sustainability programs and gaining significant PR (as well as being a NASDAQ traded company), it does not disclose sustainability indicators.
Again, without a published CSR or real sustainability documentation, it can be difficult to evaluate the structure of their program.
Most competitors (such as the Warren Buffet-owned Shaw Carpet) have closed the gap on recycled materials, and can offer the same level of recycled material. Interface has been able to hold much of its gains from its initial burst of growth as the first mover in recycled carpet.
Please watch the following 3:46 video.
Video: Worn Wear® Stories | Presented by Patagonia (3:46)
In the face of increasing consumerism, immediate gratification, and disposable products, there is an opportunity to own a space around authenticity, durability, and modesty. Patches and repairs to an item of clothing should be considered a badge of honor from a life well lived.
To own the space, and in the process, help justify the price premium of their well-constructed, sustainably sourced clothing. There is also an opportunity to distance themselves from other outdoor brands (i.e., North Face) which have lost their authenticity to some extent. Patagonia can provide information, materials, and support to those who seek to repair their clothing as opposed to throwing it out.
GRI Planet Aspects
Patagonia Mission Statement: "Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis."
"One of the most responsible things we can do as a company is to make high-quality stuff that lasts for years and can be repaired, so you don’t have to buy more of it. The Worn Wear® program celebrates the stories we wear and keeps your gear in action longer to take some of the pressure off the planet."
Many companies tout the durability of their clothing, but very few actively give you the tools and support to repair their clothing. Fewer still promote purchasing fewer of their products in the headlines of their pages.
If any additional evidence is needed that they are serious about this, Patagonia actively promotes a Black Friday "Worn Wear Swap" at eight of its flagship locations where you can bring in your used Patagonia and swap with others. Not many stores would devote the largest retail day of the year to encouraging used clothing.
Everywhere. The initiative is excellent at not only unearthing stories, but in the process reinforcing the bond between a piece of clothing and an emotional or memorable experience. They have a dedicated blog for the Worn Wear program, and you can easily see how customers will wax poetic about the memories they have of their favorite Patagonia item (and furthermore, reinforcing the durability of Patagonia used for years in rough conditions).
While it would be nice to have a metric (i.e., "200,000 Patagonia garments NOT sold since 2012"), the Worn Wear program is more of a message or social imperative than anything. Participation in the program does not involve the purchasing or signing up for anything, so it would be hard to measure. It does capture quite a bit of vicarious achievement through the rich stories shared by customers about the adventures of their faithful Patagonia jacket or shirt.
Very little, which is keeping with the Patagonia sustainability ethos of initiative- as opposed to metric-driven sustainability reporting. While they lack in structure, they far exceed in framework and execution. Patagonia has offered this statement as to why they do not have a structured CSR:
"The advantage to the reader/user of sustainability reports that follow the GRI framework is the ability to easily compare data from different companies. The disadvantage: a sustainability report, like an annual report, can be a dull read held forth in specialized language that clouds as much as it reveals. Because we recognize the advantages of easy comparability, we are investigating the possibility of importing data we collect for the Footprint Chronicles into a GRI framework (and with as much plain speaking as possible). Sustainability reports can be expensive for a company of our relatively small size to research and produce and can only supplement, not substitute, for the Footprint Chronicles. We want to continually raise rather than lower the quality of the conversation we’ve created with our stakeholders over the past years."
The Worn Wear program does a fantastic job of justifying a premium price and deepening the brand experience through storytelling and authenticity. It's in keeping with the Patagonia platform of 'a consumer brand that rejects consumerism.'
Full Sail Brewing Co.
Watch the following 2:44 minute video on Beer, Water, and Responsibility.
Video: Full Sail Brewing: Beer, Water & Responsibility (2:46)
If you listen to what Jaime says in the video, it would appear that their world-leading water efficiency not only stems from a belief of responsibility, but also in remaining a welcome member of the Hood River community (this is an example of securing "license to operate," a topic we will address in a later lesson).
There may certainly be some technical prowess and innovations beyond those Jaime mentions, considering Full Sail uses only about 25% of the water per barrel of major breweries, and about 60% of the water per barrel of the much-touted sustainable brewer, New Belgium Brewing. In fact, Full Sail was named "Craft Brewer of the Year" by Beverage World Magazine, for their “sustainable stewardship, quality, consistency and operational ingenuity.”
As mentioned in a Dec 10, 2010 interview with Jen Boynton of Triple Pundit, we can see a great example of operational sustainability:
What’s your biggest sustainability challenge?
As a brewer, water and waste water are our biggest issues. That is why we are so committed to reducing our usage as much as we can. Water use also impacts waste treatment, energy use, truck hauls, etc.
Any new sustainability projects in the pipeline that have you excited?
We have just installed a new piece of brewing equipment called a Mash Filter, and it will save us nearly a million gallons of water yearly enabling us to lower our water to beer ratio. This savings also extends to the number of truckloads (~70) of material that won’t be coming and going from the brewery on a yearly basis. And I haven’t even got my arms around the savings in heating/cooling/electricity usage yet, but all will be reduced.
GRI Planet Aspects
- Total water withdrawal by source (G4-EN8)
- Water sources significantly affected by withdrawal of water (G4-EN9)
- Percentage and total volume of water recycled and reused (G4-EN10)
- Materials used by weight or volume (G4-EN1)
- Extent of impact mitigation of environmental impacts of products and services (G4-EN27)
From Boynton interview:
What are your plans for growth, if any?
We believe it is important to grow our business in an organic and sustainable way. We only look at opportunities that will allow us to build our business year after year. Because we are a small, independent brewery in a very competitive environment, we need to be sure that our business decisions are responsible and careful of our limited resources.
While Full Sail's sustainability reporting is basic and informal, it certainly befits a small company. More importantly, Full Sail has invested its innovation dollars on equipment and infrastructure that will make a tangible difference in water consumption, namely the investment in the fairly exotic Meura mash machine mentioned in the video.
Full Sail marketing and CSR does not have the gloss or reach of a larger company with creative departments and dedicated sustainability staff, but Full Sail certainly makes up for that in substance and a great sustainability story of 'the little brewer who could.' They do quite a bit of storytelling around sustainability in their blog, as well.
The fact that they are leading the world in water efficiency for a brewery is a major achievement, in and of itself.
Consider Full Sail to be a perfect case of a company NOT chasing the White Whale... water is important to the business, community and founders, so Full Sail has invested its full consideration and resources on minimizing impacts to the Hood River. They have certainly done well in that regard, and more importantly, they have set the standard and openly share their water conservation measures and advice with other brewers via "Ask Jaime."
Very little, but they do not have a formal CSR. Again, like sustainability, in a resource constrained setting, we must make choices, and Full Sail is spending it on improving performance as opposed to talking about the improved metrics.
Leading the world in water efficiency, wholly-owned by its 47 employees, and holding more than 130 Gold Medals for its beers, Full Sail is an example of what successful sustainability in a small business can look like.