Climate change is quite possibly the largest crisis facing humanity and the planet, and its effects are already being felt around the world, especially in marginalized communities. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, extreme weather events, accelerated by climate change, displace an average of 20 million people each year.
To combat climate change and turn back the tide of environmental harm that we have caused, every segment of humanity must pull together — this includes governments, civil society, nonprofits, and, crucially, businesses.
Human innovation and industry has brought about great technologies and advancements — albeit not distributed equitably around the globe — but it has also put us on an unsustainable trajectory when it comes to the health of our planet.
Addressing the climate crisis actually gives humanity a great opportunity to restructure our economic systems to be more equitable by empowering more communities with the tools necessary to join the green economy.
Future-minded executives and workers should be pushing their companies to adopt more environmentally friendly practices both for the sake of competition and for the health of our planet.
Already, many companies are undertaking sustainable and regenerative initiatives. Through a combination of consumer and industry pressures, government policies, and the increasingly omnipresent effects of climate change, it is likely that a growing number of businesses will follow suit and consider how they can address their environmental impact.
Below are examples from companies that have committed to combat climate change with replicable solutions that other businesses can adopt and implement in their own operations.
Allbirds: Sharing Sustainability Tools with Other Companies
Allbirds is a sustainably-minded clothing company, most well known for its sneakers, that has recently offered its tools for combating climate change to the rest of the industry.
The primary materials the company uses to create its apparel products are wool, tree fibers, and sugarcane.
These materials are less harmful to the environment than those used by traditional apparel brands. For example, Allbirds states that using its tree fiber — TENCEL Lyocell — requires 95% less water than using cotton.
In addition to having a more sustainable apparel construction, the company has started using carbon labels on its products to inform consumers about the carbon footprint of their purchase.
The company’s goal is to reduce that number to zero, but at the moment, creating and shipping a pair of its shoes emits 7.6 kg of carbon dioxide on average, better than the average of 12.5 kg for most sneakers. The company also purchases carbon offsets and is aiming to source its wool through regenerative practices by Dec. 2025.
To celebrate Earth Day, Allbirds open-sourced its carbon footprint calculator, enabling other fashion brands to use it. It has done the same with its SweetFoam technology, the sugarcane-based sole of its shoes.
The company acknowledges that this is an atypical business practice, but says that advancing environmentally friendly practices is more important than having a competitive advantage.
Businesses that have found ways to become more environmentally friendly or that have created greener technologies and products should follow suit to truly show their commitment to addressing the climate crisis.
Pela: Choosing Nontraditional Materials and Going Climate Neutral
Pela is a company that sells plastic-free toiletries and pet care products, biodegradable smartphone and smartwatch accessories, and biodegradable eyewear. The company is currently working on creating an in-home composter as well. All of these products help cut back on waste and reduce environmental harm.
In addition to its products, Pela is a Climate Neutral Certified business and purchases carbon credits to offset its emissions.
Even before purchasing offsets, the company reports that creating its phone cases emits 25% less carbon dioxide, uses 35% less water, and produces 70% less waste. And by purchasing the company’s plastic-free products, Pela customers have helped prevent the equivalent of more than 41 million plastic bags from entering the ocean, making our planet healthier than it otherwise would be.
Companies that produce goods can learn from Pela’s example by looking for nontraditional materials and ways to make their products.
And while purchasing carbon offsets is not a long-term solution to the climate crisis, the practice can help mitigate the worst effects of climate change and ease the transition to a truly regenerative economy. Most companies cannot completely eliminate their emissions, but they can purchase offsets and give themselves a financial incentive to reduce their carbon footprints.
Seventh Generation: Opting for Better Ingredients and Engaging in Brand Activism
Seventh Generation is a cleaning supplies company that focuses heavily on sustainability. The company’s sustainable principles even informed its name, as the company hopes “to transform the world into a healthy, sustainable and equitable place for the next seven generations.”
The company primarily uses plant-based ingredients, as the production of synthetic ingredients can have harmful effects on the planet since they often require petroleum or natural gas. Seventh Generation also uses recycled materials for its packaging, and by 2025, it wants its packaging to be 100% recyclable, reusable, or biodegradable. Achieving this goal would put the company far ahead of its competitors when it comes to sustainability, as many cleaning products come packaged in virgin plastics.
Seventh Generation is also not afraid of engaging in activism to combat climate change. On its website, the company lists several actions its customers can take to advance regenerative policies, and racial and climate justice. Some examples are urging President Joe Biden to sign an executive order to stop approving fossil fuel projects and focus on addressing climate change through COVID recovery efforts; encouraging people to take part in a Zero Waste Challenge; and amplifying Black voices in the Climate Justice Movement.
To have a more positive impact on the planet, businesses don’t have to completely overhaul their entire structure. Instead, they can opt for alternative ingredients or materials that are better for the planet when possible. Additionally, having a relatively short timeline on sustainability initiatives, like Seventh Generation’s packaging initiative, can help ensure that making progress on the initiatives is incorporated into a company’s daily operations. And engaging in brand activism can highlight a company’s values to its stakeholders and show how the company is amplifying its reach on crucial issues and, most importantly, help move the bigger needle for the whole economy by engaging the public sector.
Adidas: Collaborating for a Cleaner Planet
Large, global companies are joining the fight against climate change. Adidas, the athletic apparel company, is one company that has been launching initiatives to green its operations. Several of these initiatives involve collaborations with other businesses and organizations, including the company’s initiatives targeting plastic waste.
Plastic waste is a major issue in part because the production of plastic often requires coal, oil, and natural gas. To address plastic pollution, Adidas has begun using recycled and recovered plastic to make some of its shoes. The company has manufactured tens of millions of shoes to date using ocean plastics recovered by Parley, an organization that launches collaborations aimed at ending plastic pollution.
In addition to its partnership with Parley, Adidas has partnered with Allbirds. The two companies came together with the goal of creating “a sport performance shoe with the lowest ever carbon footprint.” The FUTURECRAFT.FOOTPRINT partnership, as it is being called, just released its first prototype, which uses 2.94kg of CO2 to make, significantly less than most performance shoes and the lowest footprint of a shoe created by either company. The two companies plan to continue this collaboration and scale their discoveries to be shared with the rest of the industry.
Climate change will not be solved by one company alone. Collaborations designed to clean up the planet by creating innovative products, services, and solutions will be crucial for pushing the economy as a whole to become more regenerative. Businesses should be open to partnerships that allow them to combine their efforts with others for maximum positive impact.
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For the past couple years, Ryan has been helping purpose-driven organizations, businesses, and individuals tell their stories using a variety of digital skills and tools to reach their target audiences. Ryan's work has touched democracy reform, the impact economy, public safety, and more.