The Top Sustainability Initiatives From 2018

Alan L. Johnson

2018 was filled with companies coming out and boldly making waves with sustainability initiatives. Some of the top trends were reduction or removal of plastics in company ecosystems, environmental conservation, and moving to sustainable, green energy sources. It is interesting to reflect on 2018 and think about what will be in store for 2019.

In the recent Forbes article by Eillie Anzilotti, entitled "The most exciting corporate sustainability moves of 2018," Anzilotti focuses on some of the most key corporate sustainability initiatives of 2018. On the removal of plastics from company ecosystems, she says:

This year, inspired by a push from a broad coalition of activist groups, Starbucks pledged to phase out single-use plastic straws by 2020. Other major players like American Airlines and McDonald’s are makings similar shifts. McDonald’s and Starbucks are also teaming up to develop a compostable coffee cup. Through a new pledge launched by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 250 organizations, including brands like H&M, PepsiCo, and Unilever, as well as the World Economic Forum and 40 academic institutions, will work together to develop a circular economy for plastic. The aim is to shift away from plastic when unnecessary, and ensure that all that is used is recycled. By 2025, they want all plastic packaging to be reusable, recyclable, or compostable–and not end up in the oceans or landfill, where it harms environments.

She goes on to further discuss some of the environmental conservation that took place:

In parts of the developing world, deforestation and monoculture farming practices have wreaked havoc on local environments. Recognizing this, some companies are working to build back diverse ecosystems. The natural beauty company Lush, for instance, has launched a program in Guatemala to encourage the regrowth of native crops like vanilla and avocado, which it uses in its products. By funding farmers to reintroduce those crops, Lush wants to help reverse the damage of decades of forest clearing for palm oil plantations, which has drained the soil of nutrients. Annie’s, an organic food company, is sourcing wheat from a farm in Montana that uses regenerative farming practices–a method of planting and land use that both restores soil and sequesters carbon in the ground (this year, a coalition of brands including Dr. Bronner’s and Patagonia developed a regenerative agriculture certification). In perhaps the largest-scale environmental regeneration initiative this year, Apple is investing in a massive initiative in Colombia to restore and protect a 27,000-acre forest of mangroves–one of the most effective carbon-sucking species on the planet.

The article goes on to describe some of the amazing work being done by companies is translating into real energy savings or conversion to more eco-friendly sources. It describes:

A number of delivery companies, including UPS and FedEx, have begun work on transitioning their fleets to electric vehicles (UPS is also testing deliveries by e-bike). IKEA is also shifting to zero-emissions delivery vehicles. On a broader scale, Apple, by working with a number of utilities to ramp up solar and wind production, now runs on 100% green energy at its own facilities. It’s also convinced a number of companies it works with along its supply chain to begin converting to clean energy, and has set an important precedent as the tech industry grapples with the energy demands of its data centers and massive footprints. Levi’s also has bold plans: The company will be powered by 100% renewable energy at its own facilities by 2025, and will also cut emissions in those buildings by 90% from where they were in 2016. Levi’s also wants to cut emissions by 40% along its whole supply chain, which no other company has attempted to do. Doing so, however, could have global ramifications, and set an example that the whole manufacturing and apparel industry can mimic in cleaning up their own acts.

What is incredible is the amount of companies doing great things to help the environment and to make the world a safer place. Not to mention that the companies are all coming from different backgrounds in different industries. With so much momentum in 2018 around plastics, the environment, and green or clean energy what do we have in store for 2019? With or without the climate accord or any other formal agreement in place, it seems that business is doing the right thing because it makes financial sense and is a brand differentiator. It will be fascinating to see what 2019 brings in the way of corporate social responsibility and sustainability initiatives.

Reality Changing Observations:

Q1. In what ways do you need to be more sustainable?

Q2. If you learned of a company that was actively pursuing sustainability initiatives how would it change your opinion of their products?

Q3. Can you describe a way in which you could help others understand sustainability initiatives?