Social and environmental impact is one of 10 themes Courier wants to focus on in 2022 – our compass for content, if you will. Some stories and topics get us going a bit more than others, and while they might not include the fastest growing industries or the most talked-about trends, they’re the ones we think deserve more attention over the coming 12 months. Click here to see all 10 themes.
Millennial and Gen Z consumers are demanding that businesses make firm commitments towards social and environment responsibility. For a lot of people in these generations, the way they buy and who they buy from is driven by their values and principles. Predictive analytics platform First Insight discovered that around half of millennials and Gen Zs surveyed are willing to spend 10% more on products that are manufactured consciously. And yet, the same consumers are falling prey to empty language from brands all the time.
Greenwashing and ‘wokewashing’ are a growing problem as brands attempt to position themselves as ethical options for conscious consumers. Terms such as ‘sustainably sourced’, ‘locally sourced’ and ‘ethically manufactured’ are common sights in brand copywriting, but there's often very little evidence to back these claims up. ‘Radical transparency’ is another one: if the brand itself gets to choose what it discloses and how, is it really that transparent?
Regulation is catching up
Regulation is starting to evolve, helping businesses commit to social and environmental responsibility while still remaining profitable. In the US, disclosing environmental, social and governance (ESG) information is closer to becoming mandatory for public companies, while the UK's Better Business Act is made up of more than 800 businesses that believe companies need to be held legally accountable for their impacts on people and the environment.
Businesses are also increasingly looking to embed social responsibility into their legal structures. There are now more than 400 worker-owned co-operatives in the US, owned and self-managed by employees, such as Cajou Creamery, a plant-based dessert business in Baltimore.
Rise of the B Corp
Certifications and third-party accreditations are also helping consumers make informed choices – and motivating businesses to change their models to align with their social and environmental goals. The B Corp certification, for instance, encourages businesses to amend their legal governing documents to demonstrate their commitment to employees, society, suppliers and the environment.
‘Ongoing measurement of environmental and social performance is a crucial element of B Corp certification,’ explains Chris Turner, executive director of B Lab UK, the non-profit organization behind B Corp. ‘Businesses also need to be transparent about where they are now and where they want to make progress.’
Becoming a B Corp requires a very thorough examination of a business' social impact: companies are measured on multiple outcomes and must apply for recertification every three years. But certifications seem to make business sense: between 2017 and 2019, turnover of small and medium-sized B Corps grew 24% on average, compared with just 3% for all small and medium‑sized enterprises. B Corps were also more likely to apply for research and development (R&D) tax credits for innovation, and more likely to secure funding.
The conversation on what constitutes a socially conscious or ethical business is also constantly evolving. Newer, emerging ideas include regenerative agriculture and implementing a circular economy, Chris adds. Ultimately, one business in one industry won't be able to tackle every social and environmental problem alone. It's going to take alliances, coalitions and system-level change, as well as bold, industry-bending ideas and innovation to tackle some of these deep‑seated, multi-layered issues.
Doing well by doing good
Here are four businesses in various sectors that are doing things differently – and showing evidence of their journeys along the way.
Food. Launched in 2014, Masienda is a line of heirloom corn that's sourced in collaboration with farmers in the Oaxaca region of Mexico. All the corn is grown using regenerative agriculture practices and is non-GMO. The company is even open about why all of its growers can't afford to apply for organic certifications.
Beauty. HIGHR is a lipstick brand that's manufactured solely with solar energy. The brand records all the carbon used in freight, employee travel, manufacturing and warehousing to actively offset its impacts. The boxes are even printed with vegetable- and water-based inks to reduce water pollution.
Accessories. Hyer Goods is a line of bags and wallets made from leather and fabric scraps. The brand's not only transparent about the factory it uses (Drishti Lifestyle, a specialist leather manufacturer in Delhi) but also about its packaging – while the mailers, tape and postcards are recyclable, the team at Hyer is still working on making its stuffing recyclable as well.
Hospitality. Olas, a hotel in Tulum, Mexico, is situated within a platinum-reviewed Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design building powered by solar panels. The grounds are kitted out to collect rainwater to feed the plants, while the kitchen's ingredients are sourced from local farms and fishermen.