Just How Good Are Those Sustainability Pledges?
Sustainability in the corporate environment has been all the rage these days, at least outwardly.
Looking to avoid backlash from environmental groups and please investors, it seems most companies are increasingly thinking, “Hey, let’s announce a pledge to do better.”
So how many of them actually follow through on that pledge, and how many are just greenwashing the criticism away for a year or two?
Let’s find out. Here is a scorecard of some of the biggest consumer goods companies and how they’re doing on their sustainability commitments.
There won’t be any black or red columns on this scorecard. It’s more of a grade. Here’s the grading system, from best to worst.
To keep things entertaining we thought we’d throw in a fifth grade. The highest grade: Damn straight.
So let’s get into it.
It’s tough to write about this company’s sustainability efforts without just screaming at the top of your lungs, “Try! Just try to be even reasonably better! My God! Try!”
But much to our surprise, Coca-Cola appears to be trying these days. In 2018, they announced their pledge to recycle all packaging by 2030. They plan to recycle as many bottles as they make. While this may sound great and all, there isn’t enough infrastructure to recycle all the waste they create. So unless Coca-Cola is building new technology to collect and recycle their discarded products, plus completely eliminating the use of virgin plastic, their recycling pledge won’t have any positive impact on the environment.
However, it looks like they are now tackling the virgin plastic problem, too. In February 2021, Coca-Cola announced they will sell soda in 100% recycled plastic.
Haven’t they already attempted something like this? That’s right, in 2009, Coca-Cola debuted the “PlantBottle” in Denmark, a bottle supposedly made from 30% plants. What happened next? Coca-Cola was sued when it was discovered by a Danish consumer advocate that the PlantBottle was made from no more than 15% plants.
And then, Coca-Cola put out this claim at the beginning of 2020—“People want plastic.” How often do consumers specifically ask for plastic? Unless a baby or toddler is involved—and there are now non-petroleum plastic options available—probably not often.
▴ Coca-Cola PlantBottle
Another question, should the industry be transformed away from plastic altogether? Yes, but that’s clearly a long way off.
But back to Coca-Cola’s 2030 pledge. How is it going? Yeeeaaah, not good. They’re not getting close. Allow us to explain. 2030 may seem like a long way off, and it is, really. But to tackle a problem of this magnitude, Coca-Cola needs to be putting in the work now. Couple that with their history of deception, and their score is:
Grade: Dude, no. You’re just greenwashing.
PepsiCo announced in December that 100% recycled plastic bottles would be used in 9 EU markets by 2022. It’s a very limited pledge, but precise and with a swift deadline. That’s encouraging.
One of two things can come out of such a fast approaching deadline. Either they’ll make it, and it will raise the bar, or it will become just another greenwashing ploy.
It’s hard to ignore PepsiCo’s history as a major plastic polluter, but their promise for a quick turnaround leaves us feeling optimistic.
Grade: It’s a start. But time will tell.
Proctor & Gamble
P&G signed a deal in 2020 for 200 million recycled bottles, or at least the material to make that many. This is better than a pledge. Props to P&G for putting their money where their mouth is. While this number doesn’t represent all of the bottles they produce (otherwise they would’ve said so), it’s a good start.
▴ P&G refillable shampoo bottles
And they’re launching refillable shampoo bottles in Europe this year. P&G claims it will reduce plastic use by 60%, but unfortunately, the plan calls for refilling bottles from single-use plastic pouches.
Grade: Somewhere between It’s a Start and Seems Legit, if only for the optimism.
A P&G brand, Gillette and Venus, have announced new sustainability targets. They plan to use 50% less virgin plastic and 50% fewer emissions by 2030. Cool.
Even the pledge grades out at: Not good enough.
By 2030 they need to cut their emissions and plastic use by more than 50% to have any meaningful positive impact on the environment.
Hershey Company came out with some new sustainability goals of their own in March of this year: 100% of their plastic packaging accounted for by 2030, targets on emissions and waste, and no deforestation. Impressive.
They’ve also broken down their targets into three scopes—with the first two aimed at reducing total emissions more than 40% by 2024. It’s too early to grade Hershey’s results at this point, but the targets are specific and have meaningful deadlines. It sounds like Hershey is starting to roll.
Grade: Seems legit.
In 2018, Kraft Heinz announced they’re committing to sustainable packaging, and they’ll have it fully functional by 2025. Now that’s a target! Enough of this 2030 stuff. And in January of this year, a story ran that Kraft Heinz is testing recyclable paper mac & cheese bowls. No plastic anywhere on the container.
Finally! That’s what we’re talking about.
Grade (on the hope this continues): Damn straight.
▴ Kraft macaroni & cheese fiber-based cups
It would be really unfair of us to grade all these companies and not open it up to ourselves. Quite frankly, it just wouldn’t be transparent. We think we’re doing a pretty good job on the sustainability front. After all, we are founded on those principles. But what do you think? Comment below and share your score for how we’re doing.
Article by Impact Snacks Contributor, Nate Tyler | Website