In a year when politicians battled out a critical climate change agreement at COP24, businesses have also stepped up to the plate to lighten their environmental impact.
The Ellen MacArthur Foundation brought together 250 organisations this year, including brands like H&M, PepsiCo, and Unilever, as well as the World Economic Forum and 40 academic institutions, to help develop a circular economy for plastic.
By 2025, they want all plastic packaging to be reusable, recyclable, or compostable – and not to end up in the oceans or landfill where it harms environments.
Meanwhile, Starbucks bowed to mass public protest by pledging to phase out single-use plastic straws by 2020. It has also teamed up with McDonald’s to develop a compostable coffee cup.
NextWave, a partnership between Dell and the Lonely Whale Foundation, is encouraging companies to collect ocean-bound plastic and turn it into new products. HP is making ink cartridges from plastic collected in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and Ikea is to begin testing products made from ocean-bound plastic next year.
Ethical clothing company EverLane has begun repurposing plastic into outerwear through its ReNew collection, and has pledged to eliminate new plastic from its entire supply chain by 2021.
In 2018, outdoor retailer The North Face launched the Bottle Source Collection, featuring T-shirts and tote bags made from bottles collected at national parks. It also converted its popular ThermoBall jackets to use recycled plastic bottles.
Deforestation and monoculture
Plastic is just one aspect of environmental damage that companies are trying to mitigate. In parts of the developing world, deforestation and monoculture farming practices have wreaked havoc on local environments.
Companies are now working to build back diverse ecosystems. Natural beauty company Lush 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. And 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 of 2018, Apple invested 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.
In a bid to reduce their carbon emissions, delivery companies including UPS and FedEx are 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 is working with a number of utilities to ramp up solar and wind production. It now runs on 100 per cent green energy at its own facilities. Apple has also convinced companies along its supply chain to begin converting to clean energy – an important precedent as the tech industry grapples with the energy demands of its data centres and massive footprints.
Levi’s also has grand plans: by 2025 it will be powered by 100 per cent renewable energy at its own facilities. It aims to cut its emissions by 90 per cent from 2016 levels. The firm also wants to cut emissions by 40 per cent along its entire supply chain, which no other company has attempted to do. This could set an example that the global manufacturing and apparel industry can follow.
While we do need the efforts of our politicians to make national and systemic changes to stop climate change, these companies can – and are – also making a difference.