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The turn of this millennium has converted thousands of companies to stride the path of sustainability and reducing their environmental impact.
While scanning for companies with the best sustainability programs, I was directed by Mr. Google to the GlobeScan.
SustainAbility Leaders survey. From its 13 contenders in 2020, I studied each of their sustainability initiatives. I highlighted one of their programs that address the triple bottom line of corporate sustainability, i.e., People, Planet, and Profit.
This article hopes to inspire companies to reconfigure and optimize their sustainability strategies to benefit the company and the greater public. I also hope that this guides you to find brands that align with your values, whether you are a recent college graduate or business veteran.
Sustainability: it is beyond being environmentally-friendly
Embracing sustainability in these past decades has become a new norm for corporations, but we’re entering an era where environmentally friendly is hardly enough.
Being a sustainable company provides external benefits such as a good reputation and compliance with statutory requirements and internal services such as proactive management and abatement of operational risks.
However, to be an ambassador of sustainability goes beyond just being environmentally-friendly.
To be sustainable, companies should consider the net positive impact of their contribution to people or society, planet or environment, and their internal business processes to create profits.
This could mean:
- Development of the grassroots communities in their project areas
- Knowledge of the limitations of their natural capital ensuring that it can sustain their raw material requirements (be it local or global)
- Good governance and housekeeping practices within their internal operations that are aligned with government regulations or international standards on environmental and human resource management
Below are the 7 companies with a specific program that simultaneously addresses the 3 pillars of sustainability: People, Planet, and Profit.
Companies With The Best Sustainability Programs
“Make a difference.”
Tata is an Indian-based company that is a conglomerate of several industries, from hotels to communications to power, steel, motor, chemicals, including consultancy services. It operates in more than 100 countries across six continents.
Tata’s mission statement:’ To improve the quality of life of the communities we serve globally, through long-term stakeholder value creation based on Leadership with Trust’ – is a unique sustainability expression integrated into the business model.
Their corporate sustainability initiatives revolve around education, environment, health, including arts and culture.
But one that cuts across its business operational continuance and growth while benefiting the community is its program on rejuvenating water bodies. The journey began in 2012 with only 4 pilot companies in the conglomerate and later adopted by other water-intensive Tata companies. Results led to a 25-30% overall reduction of freshwater consumption.
Not only that. The communities experienced the benefits as the Tata Group of companies extend their eco-friendly water management strategies in their upstream villages.
Results show improved access to safe and potable water by the communities in these areas. They have also been partnering with the local government to clean up rivers and rejuvenate other water bodies. A compendium of the results of their water initiatives can be found here.
“From black to a green energy company.”
Orsted is a renewable energy company in the UK that earned the famous “from black to a green energy company” slogan. It divested its portfolio from the fossil-based industry towards sustainable energy.
It ranked the most sustainable company globally in the Corporate Knights 2020 and Global 100 index of most sustainable companies.
Among its major sustainability themes are recycling and bioenergy, sustainable growth and the environment, and climate change.
Orsted triple bottom line sustainability program includes the creation of economic opportunities through grants for its communities. Known as the Community Benefit Funds, Orsted supports various projects that uplift the local groups and organizations’ lives in the coastal regions. Here they construct and operate our offshore wind farms while doing their part to protect the environment.
Among eligible funding activities may include communities’ activities and services, community buildings and facilities, nature and public open spaces, sports/recreation/play, and skills fund projects. To date, they have already funded 290 projects worth 3.5 million euros.
#5 Microsoft Inc
“Making a global impact.”
Microsoft is an American company that manufactures and develops software, electronic gadgets, licenses, personal computers, video games, intelligent devices, and related accessories.
Microsoft’s corporate mission is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more. They focus on technologies that can positively impact and become a more significant part of people, communities, and organizations.
Among its sustainability efforts include green and sustainable product lifecycles. They adopt the circular flow of materials, raw materials sourcing, responsible battery supply chain, responsible sourcing and manufacturing, managing risk throughout its supply chain, and sustainable manufacturing.
Microsoft’s implementation of the Responsible Sourcing of Raw Materials policy (RSRM policy) has positively impacted their business in regulatory compliance. RSRM is a document that guides its upstream supply chain processes, which has successfully protected the communities’ rights that provide for their raw materials.
A practical example under this program is Microsoft’s action to eradicate child labor in mining. Child labor in mining is a deep-seated and culturally-accepted practice in some countries. In partnership with Pact, Microsoft developed sustainable strategies and culturally appropriate programs to address this concern. According to a report, in 2017, this has led to reducing child labor around 77-97% in Congo.
Nestle is a Swiss multinational company and operates factories in more than 80 countries. It is considered the largest food and beverage company all over the world. Commonly thought of for their coffee and tea, but they also manufacture baby foods, breakfast cereals, bottled water, breakfast cereals, confectionery, dairy products, ice cream, frozen food, pet foods, snacks, among many others.
Nestle believes in creating shared value (CSV) as opposed to corporate social responsibility (CSR). The former seeks opportunities to meet the fundamental societal needs to encourage innovation and thus productivity while the latter is more inclined to philanthropic initiatives.
One of Nestle’s triple bottom line initiatives under CSV is the global implementation of the Nescafé Plan. The said
plan aims to improve the sourcing and quality of its raw material, particularly coffee, by addressing its suppliers’ intrinsic needs. One of its societal contributions is to provide science based-support to the coffee growers in partnership with Rainforest Alliance, through technical training on coffee growing, harvesting, processing, and storing.
As a result, coffee farmers’ living standards improved, increased the quality and quantity of the coffee beans they produce, ensures responsible sourcing, and stimulates meaningful connections with farmers, the communities, and the environment.
Nestle’s Creating Shared Value Prize supports aspiring or existing entrepreneurs to submit innovative ideas and actions that would address challenges in water, nutrition, or rural development. Creative entries from Egypt and the Philippines bagged the 2018 awards amounting to USD151,000 to support the up-scaling and replication of their ideas.
“Making sustainable living affordable.”
IKEA is a Swedish multinational corporation from the Netherlands producing home furnishing and food products. As of June 2019, 433 IKEA stores are operating in 52 countries. Their goal is to make healthy and sustainable living affordable to as many people as possible.
IKEA is committed to integrate the circular economy into its operations and create a net positive impact on the global climate by 2030. They have already taken steps to reach this goal by phasing out virgin materials from their production, banning single-use plastic packaging, introducing more of the plant-based food options, and reducing its carbon emissions by using almost 50% renewable energy all its retail stores and production facilities.
To speed up the realization of this goal, IKEA Group Invested EUR 200 million in two significant portfolios:
- Transforming IKEA supply chain into renewable energy and shifting towards electric vehicles with zero-emission
- Removing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere through reforestation, forest restoration, and improving forest management practices.
One of IKEA’s pipeline green initiatives that would significantly contribute to the 3Ps of corporate sustainability is their plan to grow the recycling efforts in their operations. This will only benefit their supply chain but the marginalized sector of the recycling industry as well. They have already conducted a risk assessment of a plastic recycling facility in Indonesia that would serve as the basis of the plan to boost the recycling industry.
“We’re in business to save our home planet.”
Patagonia, Inc. is an American sport and outdoor clothing brand that is based in Ventura, California. Operating for more than twenty years, Patagonia already has 70 branches worldwide spread over the United States, the Netherlands, Japan, South Korea, Australia, Chile, and Argentina.
Patagonia continuously strives to be one of the most sustainable businesses globally. It has been named a UN Champion of the Earth in 2019, receiving the UN’s top environmental honor for embedding sustainability principles at the heart of its operations.
One surprising fact about Patagonia’s merchandise is that they are quite pricey compared to their contenders (e.g., North Face, etc.). One author describes it “they’re not afraid to raise their prices a little to account for a slightly more expensive way of doing things.”
As a retail company, its sustainability initiatives include:
- Sustainable electric consumption through 100% use of renewable energy in its offices and stores
- Carbon footprint reduction through dropshipping of their the goods and recycling of their products (they buy back their some used products)
- Use of recyclable materials; waste reduction through eliminating single-use plastic and paper in its entire processes
- Water management by planting trees, capturing of gray and rain waters to flush their toilets, and for watering their plants
One of its best sustainability programs is Worn Wear, where consumers can (for free or nominal charge) repair, share, and recycle their Patagonia products to the nearest worn wear outlets. This is an exciting way to reduce the environmental footprint and emissions of retail consumerism while providing intrinsic benefits to consumers at large and increasing the number of loyal customers.
# 1 Unilever
“Together, we can change the world that does business.”
Unilever is one of the oldest multinational companies, a British-Dutch brand with a presence in 190 countries. It produces many consumer products from breakfast cereals and coffees to beauty and personal care products. They even sell medicine and pharmaceutical healthcare products.
Unilever is recognized as the No. 1 corporate sustainability leader for the tenth year in a row, according to the latest GlobeScan-SustainAbility survey. It is known for its Sustainability Living Plan, which is a 10-year plan to do sustainable operations.
From developing products that directly impact ordinary people to contributing towards reducing carbon emission at a global scale,
Unilever made a mark for holistically addressing people, planet, and profit. It ensures the adoption of sustainable management practices through various programs to improve health and overall well-being, reduce environmental footprint and emissions, and provide a livelihood to millions of people worldwide.
For example, in Madagascar, where they source out the world’s best vanilla for their ice cream, communities threaten to lose their vanilla farms. When the youth decide to migrate to cities and no longer want to do farming like their parents, a significant threat emerges. Gangs begin to steal vanilla crops and lack financial and technical knowledge to adapt to climate change and extreme weather conditions. These issues are being addressed by Unilever’s “Vanilla for Change” program.
Vanilla for Change Madagascar offers:
- Technical training to farmers to improve their farming methods
- Provision of alternative livelihood strategies to offset lean months of vanilla harvesting
- Provision of access to financial modalities
- Support youths’ education
Vanilla for Change became a successful case study and campaign strategy that increased the public’s awareness of the requirements, challenges, and realities of bringing a favorite flavoring to your local markets.
Sure, all of these green energy and various sustainability initiatives can and should be expanded. This list should be a lot longer. Yes, there are many more companies doing their part to reduce their environmental emissions and impact.
But it’s a start. It takes people like you and me to enter these companies and push for change. One lesser-known but primary opponent to green energy is the increasing reliance on massive data centers. We’ll be posting an article on data centers and the notorious “cloud” storage systems that exist and soon explore their negative environmental impact.
For now, the next time you see these brands on the grocery shelf or avail of their items and services, know that these companies are trying. A portion of your penny supports an institution that brings hope to other people and extends the life of the planet where you and I live.