A rallying call for sustainable sustainability

Corporate support for social and environmental issues has been a hot topic of debate in recent years. When a business changes they profile photo to an LGBT flag, for example, to what extent does this gesture actually mean anything against their actions? People are right to question to authencity and motivations behind such actions.

But on the other hand, I’m not a big fan of the hysterical reaction that can occur if brands are not seen as being ‘authentic’ enough. For goodness sake – they are businesses and they exist to make money. If they also want to create a little bit of good in the world along the way, then I say fair enough. Too many brands are lambasted for ‘not doing ‘enough’, and not enough recognition is given for their efforts in responding to the demand for more ethical stances or sustainable practices.  

I’m a fan of products that improve things for the environment but also do something for the consumer. Just Water sells water in cardboard bottles and claims to be ‘greener’ than those using plastic packaging. At first, they were praised for making the switch … but then the backlash kicked in and they are now criticised for their ‘green marketing’ – as in fact, cardboard is still detrimental for the environment. Any waste is going to be worse than no waste, granted. Refilling your Chilly’s bottle is always going to be better than buying Just Water. But on the days you forget and leave your refillable at home, it’s a better choice than a plastic bottle!   

Fashion’s another example. Primark’s ‘Sustainable Cotton Program’aims at lowering the environmental impact of their practices.Primark’s a fast fashion brand – their very existence is predicated on low costs and low prices. With this business model in mind, the road to sustainability is not going to be straight. The program is teaching farmers to be kinder to the environment and has managed to reduce water usage by 4% while still delivering products that fit their model. To say, “it’s not enough” is to me, a little disingenuous. It’s a step in the right direction.  

Zara has announced that all its collections will be made of 100% sustainable fabrics by 2025, as well as aiming for 80% of the energy consumed in headquarters, factories and stores to be from renewable sources and producing zero landfill waste. Yet, the brand is still slated for its fast fashion model and questionable working conditions. Wastefulness is an ineradicable feature of any business model predicated on responding to trends quickly. The fact that a business that epitomizes all the problems of fast fashion has finally responded to critics from within and outside the industry might suggest the strengthening influence of sustainability activists. It’s a start.   

Moving away from fashion, in the controversial ‘ethical’ cleaning products category, the brands ‘Method’ and ‘Ecover’ aim to lower carbon emissions while distributing to large supermarkets. Their ‘Synthetic Scandal’ back in 2014 made customers sceptical of their ethics, as they gambled with using ‘unsustainable’ ingredients. As it turned out, the mistake was a resulting factor of their efforts to further increase their sustainability. Why not recognise their success in producing affordable and more sustainable options for the masses?  

These companies and their projects are doing something for the environment. In an age of mercantile activism, brands can be defined by far more than the products they sell – sustainability is complex, and the first step towards it begins with the recognition of its need. Companies do not exist to be moral guardians, they exist to provide goods and services for consumers.   

There’s a lot of backlash whenever they attempt to better their practices, but it’s actually not bad if they can implement changes that hold onto their existing customers – after all, what good can ‘greener practices’ have if they lead to consumers opting for more convenient or cheaper brands? Let’s make sustainability sustainable.