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Disclosing your Climate Fingerprint – the next frontier in corporate climate policy

Sponsored: Climate is a dirty business, join the fight to leave only clean fingerprints behind.

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This article is sponsored by Pure Strategies.

With the impacts of climate change bearing down upon us, we have seen a flurry of activity from both activists and leading brands, including Patagonia and Seventh Generation, to refine the standards, limits and requirements of corporate climate leadership. Their increased scrutiny extends beyond direct operations and supply chains and targets the broader systems perpetuating the climate crisis.

In 2020, fossil fuel production and use contributed to 73 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, prompting climate activists to demand a wholesale shift away from fossil fuels. This movement has spurred initiatives such as the Fossil Free Banking Alliance, whose members pledge not to finance fossil fuel companies, and a coalition of ad agencies to forswear working with the sector.

It has also inspired leading companies to redefine the boundaries of their own climate impacts. For example, Patagonia announced it is exploring banking with companies whose climate positions align with their own.  And just this week, Seventh Generation unveiled a new approach to evaluate, disclose and act on the climate performance of key business relationships of banking, insurance, marketing, creative services, philanthropy, advocacy and other corporate activities.

Fingerprinting: A new approach to uncovering real climate impact

In its 2022 Corporate Consciousness Report, "Fingerprints: Our 2022 Climate Impact in Full Disclosure," Seventh Generation, with support from Pure Strategies and a cadre of innovative climate advocacy organizations, details a new approach to evaluating what it terms the company’s "climate fingerprint." The report asks stakeholders to consider "how many places you leave your fingerprint — on the door to your house, on your computer, on the coffee mug you used at your local bakery. Your fingerprint is likely not the only fingerprint on these items, but it is a mark of your impact."

The report highlights that companies such as Seventh Generation can find their climate fingerprints across a range of corporate spending and activities. For example, when it comes to financial services, it’s been widely reported that most major banks, insurance companies and other service providers are heavily invested in the carbon economy and not doing enough to advance a real net zero future. Using the methodology developed by Seventh Generation, Pure Strategies and several NGO partners to evaluate the company’s financial services partners, we found finance companies to be lagging as well. Few disclosed their fossil fuel related investments, committed to science-based targets, had substantial climate smart investment products, or paid more than lip service to climate justice in their policies and investments.

A review by Seventh Generation’s marketing and creative services found those service providers lagging as well. Few had public climate commitments, for example, and none clearly prioritized clients working to advance a net zero-carbon future. Seventh Generation’s philanthropy and advocacy climate fingerprints fared better based on its leadership in funding Indigenous and justice-based organizations. The report also emphasizes that while finding and evaluating corporate climate fingerprints is important, the real value lies in addressing the gaps in performance and acting on this expanded view of corporate climate "hotspots."

Taking action on your Climate Fingerprint

The latest IPCC report was unequivocal. The emissions from already existing and planned fossil fuel infrastructure will push us well past 1.5 degrees Celsius, and likely past 2 degrees Celsius average global temperature rise. Corporate climate leaders need to look beyond traditional Scope 1, 2 and 3 boundaries, and assess how other business activities may impede progress toward a safe and just climate future. We recommend several steps.

Measure: Review the climate practices and policies of service providers and business partners.

  • While the Climate Fingerprint methodology developed by Seventh Generation and Pure Strategies is new and will evolve and improve over time, it provides a jumping off point for addressing climate hotspots in business services and relationships beyond Scopes 1, 2 and 3.
  • Make sure to engage your CFO, foundation leadership and others that own these relationships in the fingerprinting exercise. Their buy-in will be critical when you move from assessing your fingerprint to acting.
  • Key resources for this work include 10-K annual reports, ESG reports, submissions to CDP or climate reports using the Task Force for Climate Related Disclosure framework. The Outdoor Policy Outfit and Drawdown have published useful methodologies. Other resources include The Carbon Bank Roll and Influence Map.

Influence: Engage partners. Engagement is critical because in some cases, the climate-friendly way forward may be relatively straightforward (new guardrails or service providers, for example), but in many cases, the path to progress may be uncertain. For example, subsidiaries of larger companies might not make decisions related to service providers (such as banking services). In other cases, there may be few, if any, better climate-safe options available. Some places to start include:

  • Educate leadership about hotspots and the need for action.
  • Dialogue with service providers about their climate ambitions and policies, and yours.
  • Empower employees to advocate for climate action in their own spheres of influence.

Activate: Make changes and improve performance. Not dissimilar from traditional strategies to address Scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions, there may be some easy wins and some long-term, more difficult interventions. Interventions may include:

  • Identify mutually agreeable commitments (such as the Clean Creatives pledge).
  • Pilot climate-friendly innovations and products.
  • Adopt guardrails and enshrine them in RFPs and business contracts.
  • Prioritize climate justice in philanthropy and advocacy.
  • Speak publicly and inspire industry action.

In the case of Seventh Generation, Ashley Orgain, global director of advocacy and sustainability, says the company "aims to use Fingerprinting to shift the climate policy of our financial and creative service providers, foundations, and advocacy work."

Fingerprinting opens new avenues to accelerate the transition away from the fossil fuel economy. I foresee exciting possibilities for sustainability leaders to work with banks, insurance providers, PR firms, corporate foundations and other service providers to increase transparency and make meaningful change. Equally exciting is the possibility of collaborating with other companies and NGOs to amplify our voices. Seventh Generation has crafted a way to scrub the dirty fingerprints and leave clean ones behind.

Interested in learning more? Check out Seventh Generation’s report or connect with Pure Strategies at info@purestrategies.com.

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