How businesses can make Earth Month more than a month

Rather than trying to convince people that they should care, as in the past; this Earth Month should be about challenging us to implement lasting change. This year, I hope we see more action on the following trends…

This year there is greater urgency around earth day. As temperatures continue to rise and the impacts are felt around the world – and on our doorstep – it’s clear we need to put people and planet first for more than just a day or even a month. . Change must be an ongoing collective effort of individuals, activists, government and business. For business leaders, actions can range from choosing responsible materials and increasing transparency to reducing the company’s footprint and even taking greater account of the link between climate and social justice. Consumers expect better; and it is our best chance to have a safe and healthy planet for future generations.

But all is not gloomy, because we know what we have to do. Innovations and action steps are at hand, and there is critical mass support to reverse the trend. Rather than trying to convince the public that they should care, as in the past; this Earth Month should be about challenging us to implement lasting change. We need to celebrate the work done so far, while continuing to push the boundaries of what has been possible.

This year, let’s not welcome empty promises. Instead, hopefully we’ll see more action on the following trends:

Increased scrutiny of sustainability promises

As people demand that companies act more sustainably, companies are responding by setting more aggressive and publicly touted goals – to the point that many of us wonder if those goals are achievable. With growing skepticism about corporate goals comes an increased demand for clear and transparent reporting of actual impacts. Consumers are starting to notice companies that have made a real impact at present about companies that promise changes at some point in the future.

Consumers want more transparency – from understanding the materials used in products to how workers are treated

Sustainability becomes an amorphous word. What we’ve found is that most consumers genuinely want to make cleaner choices and support brands that provide safe, healthy, and fair wages and working conditions. But the materials and manufacturing processes of products are often opaque. By increasing transparency, business leaders can make meaningful change while empowering consumers to make more informed decisions. One of the ways we’ve found to pull back the curtain is to issue transparency labels for our products, which detail the materials used and the social impacts; but the industry is ready to go further by participating in the recent AIA Materials Commitment and making material labels a standard requirement.

Companies go beyond net zero

As our planet continues to warm, the sense of urgency increases. For companies aiming to do less harm, even net-zero goals are no longer enough – proactive steps must be taken to undo decades of harm. Organizations such as
SHINE
at MIT, Company for Social Responsibilityand
Forum for the future work to define and promote net positive products and eventually organizations. We see companies at various stages of the journey to positive net output with
Interfaceverified by a third party Carbon neutral floorsprogram ™ and UPM‘s responsibly produced lumber; and in 2021, more than 60% of human scalethe products have been certified
positive for the climate through the Living Product Challenge.

Social issues are taken into account alongside environmental issues

Footprints have been used for years as a measure of negative environmental impact. Handprints are now also used to calculate social impact. From investing in underserved communities – many of which are disproportionately impacted by climate change – to buying slavery-free products, the environmental movement now encompasses the connection between people and the planet. Companies need to think beyond carbon mitigation and offsetting and consider the impact of their production processes on their global community. At Humanscale, we audit our suppliers for social impacts and work with
design for freedom advocate for change in the construction industry; but these types of assessments should become a requirement for doing business.

Alignment with sustainability requirements drives change

Sustainability can be thought of in different ways, which can be confusing for consumers trying to make more sustainable purchasing decisions. As expectations align around several key aspects of sustainability (climate health, ecosystem health, human health, circular economy, social impacts), we need a clear definition of the term. This will empower consumers who choose values-based purchases and send a clear signal to businesses and manufacturers.

Prioritizing and integrating sustainability is no longer a “nice to have” – it’s an investment in the future of your business.

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