This article is sponsored by The Sustainability Consortium.
Remember your New Year’s resolution? Maybe it was to exercise more, eat healthier or spend less time staring at a screen. Now, a harder question: Did you stick to it? Congratulations if you did, but you are in the minority. A BBC poll found that six in 10 people failed to keep their resolutions after a year.
So what does all this mean for sustainability? We’ve all heard academic V.F. Ridgway’s famous phrase: "What gets measured, gets managed." But is measuring a sustainability hotspot enough to get it fixed?
The Sustainability Consortium just released its new TSC Impact Report. The latest data from The Sustainability Insight System (THESIS) shows that the major food and consumer goods companies are continuing to reduce the sustainability impacts of their products.
Even in the face of the global pandemic, average product sustainability scores increased from 42 percent to 45 percent in the last year. This is a major achievement, especially when you consider we are talking about almost $1 trillion in product sales from over 1,500 of the largest food and consumer goods companies in the world.
Creating resilient, net-zero, sustainable product supply chains never has been more critical. And it is heartening to see that results are better than they have ever been. In particular, we are seeing continued progress on climate, water, worker health and safety, and biodiversity.
Data from previous years show that companies using THESIS for multiple years score highest and improve fastest. We saw this trend again, where the average score of companies using THESIS in both the last two years increased from 45 percent to 49 percent. That’s a higher score and a bigger improvement than the rest. So, our data backs this up: What gets measured really does get managed.
But is just measuring it enough?
This year, for the first time, we also looked at which companies were sharing their sustainability results publicly. The first thing we found was a real surprise: Almost half the companies aren’t reporting their sustainability performance externally. THESIS is the only comprehensive product and supply chain disclosure they are making. On first pass, that’s a worry. But does it matter one way or the other?
Turns out it does. Companies sharing results publicly had an average THESIS score of 53 percent but that drops to 35 percent for those that didn’t do any public disclosure. That’s a huge difference, and it means those companies who didn’t publicly disclose have the same THESIS sustainability score as the average company did way back in 2017.
We can’t tell if publicly disclosing results leads to an uptick in performance, but it seems to have played at least some sort of role. After all, we are all more likely to stick to a resolution if we’ve told our friends and family about it, right?
We also saw more companies take action in 2020 to drive improvements in their products and supply chains. Fully 93 percent of THESIS users completed at least one new action last year, ranging from redesigning products and changing internal manufacturing, to engaging suppliers and making sustainability a contractual requirement. All these activities add up.
And what of the business benefits? Well, the Center for Sustainable Business at NYU reported recently that sustainably marketed products grew 7.1 times faster than those that were not, and enjoyed a 39.5 percent price premium.
Increasingly, consumers expect the products they buy to come with public commitments and sustainability built in. The proliferation of apps, widgets and green shopping sites means it is getting easier for people to align their shopping with their values, too. This means that if your company doesn’t share its sustainability strategy, targets and performance publicly, it likely already is missing out.
TSC members are getting in on the act. We’ve worked with the likes of Church & Dwight, Ocean Spray, Norcom, Campbell and Clorox to share their THESIS results publicly now, too. None of them is perfect, but each recognizes the importance of being transparent, sharing progress and publicly setting targets for its companies, products and supply chains. All this helps to build trust and momentum. And if they can, everyone can.
In January, I made a resolution to cut out cookies, my guilty pleasure after I exercise. I didn’t tell anyone and, surprise surprise, it didn’t last. So now I’m telling you all. Let’s see if sharing my target publicly makes a difference. I’ll report back in a few months…