It is no secret that the global energy sector has the highest environmental impact. According to a 2019 report, the top 20 fossil fuel companies contribute over 35% of greenhouse gas emissions in the world. The top 100 fossil fuel companies are responsible for 71% of global greenhouse emissions since 1998.
But the fossil fuel industry isn’t the only one damaging the environment. Other large corporations, such as Coca-Cola, Apple and Ikea, also have a detrimental effect on the environment. In the past, companies across numerous industries — including manufacturing, food, fashion and electronics — have been wary of upholding transparency with how they mitigate their impact.
We will look at seven companies facing environmental issues in 2020. The business identified encompass various industries, focusing on business to consumer models. In particular, we will spotlight companies that have a poor track record of environmental initiatives but are making a deliberate effort to be more sustainable.
Ikea, a European furniture retail company, is taking a big step towards sustainability. However, it is still working to find more sustainable solutions to its aggressive consumption of natural resources. Ikea consumes more wood than any other company — 1% of the world’s wood.
While the business is working to source sustainably, this can be a difficult transition in the short term. Even though Ikea is a leader in the “fast furniture” industry, the progression of reducing impact requires modifications that can take years to establish.
Ikea is making a step towards only sourcing from responsibly managed forests, but it still produces furniture that does not have a long life expectancy. On a positive note, the business recently announced that by 2030, 100% of its products will consist of recycled material.
Electronic devices, such as phones and laptops, have a major environmental impact. Their influence lies in their manufacturing, but more significantly, there is also the issue of mining for conflict minerals.
The mining processes for aluminum, cobalt, silicon and tin output significant amounts of pollution. Along with a few other large technology firms, Apple also faces accusations of utilizing child labor in its mining efforts, especially in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
iPhone production isn’t the only problem. One of the biggest pollutants we deal with today is e-waste. Around the world, we dispose of 50 million metric tons of e-waste every year.
However, Apple is making a renowned effort to mitigate its environmental impact. It has continually reduced its carbon footprint each year since 2017. In 2019 it announced that it relies on 100% renewable energy for its global facilities.
According to Apple’s website, the new MacBooks consist of 100% recycled aluminum. Apple is also promoting the longevity of its devices, with an increase in AppleCare for repairing products.
The American retail corporation has faced sharp accusations of greenwashing in their sustainability statistics. With an industry focused on providing cheap products, they struggle with improving their environmental impact in all sectors.
Walmart’s rankings as a supermarket are among the worst in the country, according to a survey from Consumer Reports. Additionally, the brand receives criticism for marketing products with a short life span, acquiring undeveloped land at a record pace and supporting anti-environment political candidates.
But Walmart realizes its consumer base expects more transparency. The biggest companies have the greatest responsibility and opportunity to effect change. Walmart’s new plan, Project Gigaton, is an ambitious target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the equivalent of negating the impact of over 200 million cars by 2030.
By 2025, the company aims to obtain half of its energy from renewables. Their third major goal is reducing plastic waste by transitioning to a more circular economy and decreasing the amount of packaging they dispose of.
Founded in Germany, Adidas is a multinational footwear and clothing company. It is the second-largest sportswear manufacturer after Nike.
One of the most unsustainable materials in the fashion industry is polyester. The synthetic fiber has a profound negative impact on the environment, being the largest source of microplastic pollution, requiring double the energy of cotton to produce and being water-intensive. Currently, over 50% of Adidas products consist of polyester.
However, Adidas is striving to rely on 100% recycled polyester by 2024. This ambitious goal is transforming the brand’s reputation with consumers and encouraging other sportswear businesses to source more sustainably.
One of Adidas’s most publicized initiatives is the Parley Ocean Plastic plan, which uses plastic waste from our oceans to create recycled shoes. According to a new report, Adidas produced over eleven million shoes made of plastic gathered from beaches and shorelines in 2019.
Data centers have an enormous environmental impact. Over 17% of technology’s carbon footprint comes from the electricity needed for data center operations. For a corporation of its size, Microsoft has been making surprisingly considerate progress toward reducing its environmental impact.
In recent years, Microsoft has been very transparent about its carbon footprint, releasing a yearly statement on its current consumption and future goals. By investing in new technology, renewable energy and green policies, Microsoft plans on being carbon negative by 2030.
This goal is essential because of the sustainability standard it sets for the industry. With technology such as virtualization software, Microsoft aims to improve its products’ energy efficiency.
There is an ongoing debate in the fashion industry about whether fast fashion can ever be truly sustainable. After all, it creates 10% of the world’s carbon emissions. Microplastics from clothes and footwear are one of the most significant pollutants of our oceans.
Brands like H&M, Forever 21, Old Navy and Zara rely on a business strategy of producing cheap, low-quality textiles that encourage the consumer to invest in new clothing as much as possible. However, Zara, a Spanish apparel retailer, is making an effort to improve their sustainability efforts.
Despite criticism that environmental initiatives cannot change the business model of a fast-fashion company, Zara is making positive strides towards reducing waste. Some of the company’s 2020 goals include eliminating toxic chemicals from all of its products and removing fibers originating from endangered forests, such as viscose.
Zara is also working on transitioning to a circular economy, encouraged by its Closing the Loop program, which offers clothing repair services for customers.
A British tea brand owned by the transnational consumer goods company Unilever is making a convincing stride toward reducing its carbon footprint. Unilever’s history as a major plastic polluter has led the company to make vague statements about its future sustainability targets.
However, the brand’s efforts to improve its tea sourcing is a hopeful sign. According to their website, Unilever is making adjustments to its supply chain to source more sustainably. This company has set goals to source only from Rainforest Alliance-certified farms, invest in sustainable agriculture and reduce water waste.
Lipton’s U.S. manufacturing plant, located in Suffolk, Virginia, is showings signs of successfully reducing their environmental impact and saving money. In addition to how tea is sourced and produced, Lipton is also decreasing their packaging waste, using 40% less packaging in 2020 than in previous years.
Improving Sustainability in the Future
If companies want to improve upon their sustainability, listening to consumer concerns and adopting practical methods will be their best bet. Preserving the environment will be a matter of choosing green practices that fit their business models and company missions.