The effects of human consumption on communities and the environment have become increasingly apparent over the last several decades. Consequently, governmental bodies and corporations are slowly beginning to prioritize the idea of implementing sustainable practices into their business plans. In 2015, the United Nations put forth seventeen sustainable development goals, aiming to protect the planet while alleviating poverty and inequality throughout the world. During recent years, countries and corporations around the world have made conscious efforts to adhere to these objectives in order to become more sustainable.
Sustainability is not confined to a single industry, community, or geographical region; there are numerous ways for any individual or entity to become more conscientious. Companies across all industries are looking to reduce their ecological footprint through a variety of methods. Our research on top global companies spanning multiple sectors has revealed a few worldwide sustainability objectives, with more specific initiatives in corresponding sectors. As the state of the Earth worsens, we believe that every individual and company should seriously consider these goals sooner rather than later.
Sustainable Packaging and Waste Minimization
Landfills are filling up quickly around the globe, causing a myriad of environmental problems. One group that contributes heavily to landfills, through both shipping and direct product packaging is the consumer packaged goods industry. The EU estimated its own packaging waste to be nearly 170 kilograms per inhabitant in the year 2015, demonstrating a clear need for new solutions.
Large retailers and distributors are looking to solve this problem by cutting down on waste production through advancements in packaging and waste management systems. In fact, Amazon has eliminated the use of hard plastic cases and plastic-coated wire ties in all of their packaging and is looking to employ 100% recyclable packaging through their Frustration-Free Packaging initiative. Nestlé also plans to minimize waste and has goals to achieve 100% recyclable or reusable packaging in all products by the year 2025.
The Bioplastic Feedstock Alliance (BFA), which includes Nestlé as a main corporate partner alongside other top companies such as Coca-Cola, Lego, McDonald’s, and Target, looks to promote the production and use of more sustainable plant-based plastics. Procter & Gamble has also partnered with the BFA to reduce the impact of their packaging, demonstrating P&G’s commitment to company-wide sustainability.
The use of recyclable and bio-based packaging vastly reduces the amount of waste sent to landfills and helps corporations such as Kroger achieve goals of having “zero-waste” facilities. Such packaging changes can allow customers to improve their own ecological footprint as well, shifting the power to the hands of consumers.
Optimizing Water Usage
Manufacturing and refining are industries that generally use considerable amounts of water, perhaps the most precious resource on the planet. Optimizing water usage has become an objective of many of the largest companies that rely on such industrial processes. Ford Motor Company, for example, reduced water usage per vehicle manufactured by 62% from the year 2000 to 2016 by installing more conservative production technologies. In 2017, Gazprom launched a new “Biosphere” treatment complex in their Moscow Refinery, allowing for up to 75% of water used to be recycled back into the production cycle.
Even food processing companies search for ways to utilize water more efficiently. Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) has established several systems and processes that remove harmful substances from water sources without chemical treatment methods, allowing for increased efficiency in water usage. Through these conservation initiatives, corporations are attempting to address worldwide issues such as water pollution and shortages to strengthen the global hydrosphere.
The Search for Renewable Energies
According to a study by the United States Environmental Protection Agency, the energy industry generates more greenhouse gas emissions than any other industry. This pollution adversely impacts the health of our atmosphere, and is a direct consequence of the use of fossil fuels.
As a result, energy and utility companies have concentrated on expanding their portfolios to include renewable resources such as wind, hydro and solar, while petroleum companies have worked on developing biofuels. Royal Dutch Shell, a major producer of traditional fossil fuels, recently implemented an initiative to cut their net carbon footprint in half by the year 2050 through renewable wind generation in the Netherlands, sale of liquefied natural gas, and R&D of novel biofuels.
On the other hand, General Electric supplied the turbines for the Block Island Wind Farm, the first offshore wind farm in the United States, and launched 15 solar energy projects in 2016 alone in efforts to advance the renewable energy industry. The production of renewable energies will create a worldwide increase in sustainability, as consumers and other businesses will be able to take advantage of cleaner energy sources and slowly phase out the combustion of fossil fuels.
Oil and gas companies are not the only ones contributing to the production of greenhouse gases, however. Corporations, regardless of industry, require energy to power their products and operations and are therefore looking to reduce carbon dioxide emissions to become more sustainable.
For example, Walmart, the largest retail company in the world, intends to operate their stores and facilities with 100% renewable energy (with a target of 50% by the year 2025), and became the first retailer with an emission-reduction plan approved by the Science Based Targets initiative. Honda Motor Company has a similar goal of utilizing renewable energy in their factories and facilities, in addition to reducing carbon dioxide emissions from their automotive products by 30% by the year 2020 (compared to the emission levels from two decades ago). These goals are not unique to Walmart and Honda only, and have been specified as areas of concern by nearly every company examined.
Moving Towards A Circular Economy
The idea of transitioning from a linear economy to a circular economy to achieve sustainability has become widely publicized in the last several years. A ‘linear economy’ employs a more traditional approach to consumption; materials are used to create a product which is then used, and finally disposed of, effectively ending the life of the product and the corresponding materials. A ‘circular economy’, on the other hand, focuses on recovering and restoring the raw materials from discarded products so that they can be fed back into the value stream, creating a self-sustaining product cycle.
This path has the potential to greatly the lower environmental impact and dependence on continuous raw material imports. Conglomerates like Alphabet, Microsoft, General Motors, and BASF have ambitions to become carbon neutral and generate zero waste, and have therefore adopted many circular economy principles. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation, a global leader and advocate of the concept of self-sustainability, has worked alongside corporations such as Google, H&M, Nike, Philips, and several others to create a more sustainable world through a transition towards a circular economy.
It has become evident that there is no single solution to achieving global sustainability. Instead, sustainability should come about through a combination of conservation, efficiency, and waste management efforts. The good news, however, is that corporations across all industries are able to take some type of action to decrease their ecological footprint. Many companies already have such measures in place, but there is a great deal of work to be done to reach these goals and achieve the levels of sustainability necessary to meaningfully impact our world.