The title of this article is also the theme of this year’s Earth Day: Invest In Our Planet. EarthDay.Org calls on every one of us to take action, now. “This is the moment to change it all — the business climate, the political climate, and how we take action on climate. Now is the time for the unstoppable courage to preserve and protect our health, our families, our livelihoods… together, we must Invest In Our Planet.”
And so I ask you, our global inkjet community, what will do on April 22, 2022 and beyond to invest in our planet? That’s a big question. Perhaps you’ve struggled for years with what to do about sustainability. Perhaps you are frustrated with your current organization’s strategy – or lack thereof. Perhaps the goals were grand, but fell short of being attained within the promised time frame. Perhaps you’re wondering how to get started. For those of us who dare to dream of making our world a better place, I turned to a few sustainability experts to help us identify our next steps.
This article explores:
- What is sustainability? How has the definition changed over the years?
- When should a company consider a sustainability strategy?
- What considerations should a company consider when developing a sustainability strategy?
- What metrics should a company consider when evaluating the success of their sustainability strategy?
- How can a company select the right partner to help them develop a sustainability strategy?
- What inkjet can do to get started.
What is sustainability? How has the definition changed over the years?
Sustainability is a complicated term. The definition will vary from company to company and person to person. Sustainability was first defined in 1987 by the United Nations Brundtland Commission as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” As the concept and the field matured, the definition expanded to include more nuance. However, the essence remains – to ensure that resources are regenerated for the needs of future generations.
The focus of global sustainability work is now on the acute challenge to curb global emissions and prevent drastic temperature rise. In 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that the change in temperature must not exceed 1.5°C to avoid the catastrophic impacts of an unstable climate.
Further focus on sustainability is evidenced by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the continuing reference of these goals in corporate sustainability strategies. In March 2022, the Securities and Exchange Commission for the first time said that public companies must tell their shareholders and the federal government how they affect the climate. The New York Times reported that the proposed rule “aims to give investors a clearer picture of the risks that climate change might pose to companies, because of disasters like drought and wildfires, changes in government and environmental policies or consumers’ declining interest in products that contribute to global warming.”
Venture Forward Strategies, a consultancy focused on helping companies take actionable steps toward sustainability, defines sustainability as positive impacts on people and the environment that contribute to a flourishing planet. “It is the ability to live and flourish in the closed loop system of the world with limited resources. We consider both environmental and social sustainability in our work,” says Danielle Doza, Partner and Co-founder of Venture Forward Strategies.
Terry Thiele, Sustainability Practice Lead, Synfiny Advisors suggests companies “separate societal impacts from environmental impacts because the metrics are so dissimilar. Environmental impacts have evolved from simply looking at smokestacks and drain pipes to life cycle assessments. Ecomodernism (ecomodernism.org) is what I consider the cutting edge of contemporary environmental thinking.”
Doza suggests getting started by defining what sustainability means to your specific company. “Once you define “sustainability” for your company, you can better steer your strategies and get everyone moving in the same direction,” says Doza. “It will provide a guidepost for the work and a starting point to develop a broader vision for your company’s impact. Defining may give clarity on social climate risks and, at the same time, reveal opportunities to create positive change to the environmental, social, and financial bottom lines. A definition will also provide a framework to set targets and goals. The process will allow a company to reaffirm its values and engage employees. Everyone in the company can form an understanding of the work and see how their role fits into it. You can start to nurture champions throughout the company to support sustainability work.”
When should a company consider a sustainability strategy?
“Yesterday,” advises Thiele. “Ensure you include life cycle thinking as an integral element of new product development; avoiding problems is always easier than fixing them.
“Now!” exclaims Doza. “As more pressure to address sustainability comes from all directions – investors, customers, consumers, employees, governments – companies must move forward on building a strategy. The risk and cost of an unstable climate will impact every entity and person on this planet. Climate risks to supply chains will only increase. Stakeholders will only raise pressures for companies to take action. Wherever a company is on their sustainability journey is a good place to start. A greenhouse gas inventory and materiality assessment are helpful first steps to understand where the company is and what issues are most critical. Engaging a group of all stakeholders in this process is a proven way to ensure that the strategy aligns with the culture and values of the company.”
What considerations should a company consider when developing a sustainability strategy?
Considerations are often coming first from stakeholder pressure. It is important to know where the pressure is coming from and for what reasons. Understanding the interests of stakeholders can help a company to prioritize its goals.
High-level considerations are the risks and opportunities of mitigation and adaptation strategies in a changing climate. Identifying R&O throughout the value chain will allow a company to prioritize sustainability initiatives. Supply chain is exposed to the most risk and should be considered a priority.
A recommended consideration is to start with physical waste at company facilities. Waste can present good opportunities for cost savings and enhancing processes. It is an issue everyone can understand. It also may be an opportunity to realize small wins and build support for further sustainability initiatives. At Venture Forward Strategies, we love solving waste problems. The solutions are tangible and can add a lot of value to the company.
What metrics should a company consider when evaluating the success of their sustainability strategy?
Thiele advises us to select metrics based on the specific situation. “Too many third party NGO metrics are not based on life cycle analysis. As a result, they often lead to unanticipated adverse results. Environmental impacts vary by severity, duration, and geographic impact. And they are not fungible… how much toxicity is worth how much climate change? Selecting the right metrics is always situation dependent.”
Doza reminds us that greenhouse gas emissions are a critical metric that many stakeholders are paying attention to. “The most paramount metric to consider is greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) across the value chain,” says Doza. “A successful strategy will be one that effectively reduces emissions permanently. Reporting on GHG emissions is requested in every reporting system, such as GRI, CDP, and a main focus of every framework, such as TCFD, SASB, and Science-Based Targets. Waste is also an important metric that is widely included in reporting. Both GHG emissions and waste can be quantified and measured making it straightforward to understand reduction over time.”
Doza explains that “social impact metrics are more difficult to quantify and will vary from company to company. They are just as important to consider when developing and evaluating your sustainability strategy. Every company should be asking how it impacts employees, communities in which they operate, and people along the value chain. Social sustainability will provide great value for a company. “For example, employees, suppliers, and partners who feel respected and safe are more loyal and productive.” (What Is Social Sustainability?, Network for Business Sustainability, December 13, 2021). In the next 20-30 years we expect it will be everyone’s job to understand and manage sustainability metrics, such as greenhouse gas emissions. While companies should start with building their sustainability team, it is critical to integrate sustainability across every department to realize long-term success.”
How can a company select the right partner to help them develop a sustainability strategy?
“The right partner is willing to learn and understand company culture and values,” states Doza. “A good partner is there to support internal stakeholders in co-creating the strategy. If needed, choose a partner that will help put that strategy into action and help the company achieve some quick wins. When interviewing a sustainability consultant, consider how involved you want or need them to be. A good consultant will develop a productive relationship with your team and tailor strategies that fit with the way you do business.”
“Avoid partners who guarantee simple quick solutions,” recommends Thiele. Every solution carries with it its own new problems. The challenge is balancing old versus new problems. It all starts with measuring what you do. Measuring what you do, is an ongoing consumer of resources. If your partner doesn’t warn you about the need to measure what you do, find another partner. Look for a partner who insists upon ISO compliant life cycle analysis.”
How Inkjet Can Take Action
Clearly, every business, no matter where it sits in the inkjet value chain, has the ability to integrate sustainability and make a more positive impact. We need to consider how our organization defines sustainability and what our metrics will be for each aspect of sustainability. There is growing pressure for us to measure and report on greenhouse gas emissions and over overall sustainability efforts.
At a product level, an immediate step every inkjet supplier can do is to consider product life cycle at the design stage of new product development. Dan Adams recently taught the inkjet community six steps to commercialize new technology. One of those steps was to understand market unmet needs when designing new products. We can work with our customers to understand their needs around the life cycle of their products and the materials they are securing from their inkjet suppliers – whether those materials be inks, coatings, substrates, equipment or print heads.
What is your organization doing to invest in our planet? Leave a comment or get in touch. We’d love to hear from you.
Looking for other ways to get involved on Earth Day 2022? Visit EarthDay.org to find an event near you.
For more on creating a sustainability strategy, check out this article from Pat McGrew.