If one good benefit can be attributed to the pandemic, it’s that carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S. will reach a record low by the end of 2020. BloombergNEF recently reported that emissions will be 9.3% lower than 2019 and would have been even less had it not been for a series of disastrous wildfires this fall in the west.
This is welcome news for environmentalists as well as the incoming administration since President-elect Joe Biden earlier announced his intention to rejoin the Paris Agreement. The decline puts the U.S. back on pace to fulfill its pledge to reduce emissions up to 28% by 2025. But despite this good news, activists say it’s still not enough and that the drop was temporary. In fact, a recent Pew Research survey found as many people concerned about climate change as they are about COVID-19. The main culprits are waste, especially plastics, and greenhouse gas emissions,
Global research firm GWI has also been tracking consumer attitudes about climate change. Its most critical finding was that 72% of consumers in 20 countries told them this July that it was more important for companies to move toward sustainability due to the pandemic. Consumers said they not only wish to see more companies advance in that direction but that they, too, will be doing their part. The top three actions cited were reducing food waste (59%), walking or cycling more (51%), and reducing their amount of plastic and single-use packaging. Some of the other popular responses were purchasing more sustainable, eco-friendly brands and reusing more products and materials when possible.
The conclusion GWI drew from the responses was that the respondents recognized that government, manufacturers, and brands also had major roles in positively affecting climate change. One major industry was tech, which was quick to respond. Here in the U.S., brands like IBM, Apple, Intel, Salesforce, and Accenture acted quickly and were among those dubbed “Sustainability All-Stars” by Fortune Magazine.
And in December, Rabobank named PepsiCo, General Mills, and Imperfect Foods winners of its Leadership Awards for their contributions to sustainability and innovation. Now is the time for companies to analyze their situation and decide what they might do to further sustainability.
Brands using single-use plastics are likely to be the most vulnerable sooner than later. More consumers are becoming alarmed because of studies like SYSTEMIQ, which forecasted the amount of plastic waste in our oceans to triple by 2040 without world governments’ intervention. Brands that team up with sustainable packaging partners will make bigger inroads with a public that’s becoming more concerned.
An earlier report showed that millennials and Gen Z were more socially conscious and had been taking their business to brands they believe to be more responsible. Brands that rely on single-use plastic for their products would be wise to consider alternatives or risk seeing steady declines in sales.
A more recent challenge is China’s refusal to accept any more recyclable plastic waste from the U.S. Even if that were to change, the recycling market is tied to ever-fluctuating oil and commodity prices. Brands would be wise to explore ways to move to zero waste as soon as possible. Consider other ways to control costs like a sustainable waste and recycling program, focusing on reuse and reduction strategies tied to better purchasing decisions and materials management.
Whatever actions the brand takes to move closer to sustainability should be communicated to all its publics. Customers and stakeholders who share the same values will appreciate it and share that information with their associates and friends.