2020 has been a year of challenges for business. The coronavirus pandemic has drastically changed consumer behaviour, disrupted global supply chains and impacted the economy. The pandemic has caused people and brands alike to reconsider how we live our lives. Some brands have risen to the challenge by leaning into social and environmental movements and creating newly sustainable models.
The trials of 2020 have caused people to lean into their values and push for social and environmental change. In many respects this year has shown that consumers care about sustainability and are driving change. A recent study by IBM found that nearly six in 10 consumers surveyed are willing to change their shopping habits to reduce environmental impact.
In response, brands are learning that operating in sustainable and ethical ways is no longer a choice, but rather a responsibility and a necessity. Businesses are embracing technology, innovation and an agile approach to create meaningful change create eco-friendly products and connect with conscious consumers.
Here we list three inspiring brands that made major strides in 2020 and did sustainability right:
1. Retail/fashion brand: H&M
While it might seem counter productive to list one of the most recognisable fast fashion brands in the world, the reality is that Swedish fast-fashion H&M is one of the most popular retailers globally. Yet despite its popularity and affordability, H&M has been making strong sustainability commitments in 2020.
In fact, a 2020 Australian study from Oxfam and Monash University says that H&M performed well overall in regards to how it treats its workers across supplier factories. Moreover, H&M received a “significantly higher rating” than some its higher priced competitors. This demonstrates better wages and working conditions across its supply chain.
The Fashion Transparency Index reviews the biggest global fashion brands. The indicators include a wide range of social and environmental issues and the 2020 Edition found that H&M was the highest scoring brand for the year. Furthermore, H&M is heavily invested in textile innovations. The retailer is moving towards a circular system that utilises recycled fabrics, as well as encouraging consumers to recycle with clever incentives. The retailer is also exploring vegan leathers and natural dyes.
In 2020 H&M upped the ante publicly with its new brand ambassador, Australian activist, academic and model, Zinnia Kumar. She represents the brands new “conscious collections”. The collections feature textiles from fabrics made from sustainably sourced wood pulp to natural fibres formed from food waste. In a year that set back many fashion retailers, H&M has steadfastly continued to create a more sustainable and ethical model.
2. Electronic goods: Apple
As previously explored, the electronics industry is complex and rife with human rights and environmental issues. That said 2020 has seen some positive movements for sustainability. In July this year Apple announced an ambitious new target. To be 100% carbon neutral for its supply chain and products by 2030. Apple has already achieved its previous goal to be carbon neutral for corporate emissions and the new target would mean that every device sold would have a “zero climate impact”.
A lot of the renewable energy used by the tech giant is currently sourced from its solar, wind, hydro and biogas installations, which is quite impressive.
Apple has published that it is committed to sourcing recycled and renewable materials across products and packaging. This would significantly eliminate the need to rely on the mining of new materials and reduce e-waste. While the worlds largest IT company has a very long way to go in regards to some important ethical concerns – like working conditions – it has made some important strides for the environment in 2020.
3. Consumer goods: Thankyou
One brand that has been creating change is Australian social enterprise Thankyou. The brand, which started in Melbourne in 2008, sells bottled water, food and body care projects. It firmly puts values and community above profit. While selling bottled water might seem inherently unsustainable, the main goal for Thankyou is to end global poverty. The profits for the brand go to its charitable trust. So far it has been reported that the brand has generated $3.7 million to fund projects providing food and aid where desperately needed and creating ongoing sustainable food projects.
Thankyou lists strict codes of conduct, responsibly sources materials, is committed to becoming 100% carbon neutral, minimises its impact on waste, minimises its impact on water scarcity and is transparent about its progress on environmental and social goals. Thankyou takes a very holistic approach to sustainability. In 2020 it took the mission a step further by asking some of the world’s largest consumer products companies, like Unilever and P&G, to partner with them in a compelling campaign called “No Small Change”. The campaign encourages big players, and consumers, to push for social change and fund some truly important projects.
As we come to the close of 2020 it is important to reflect on brands that have transformed business models and prioritised the health of people and the planet. While the year has been full of life altering challenges, through innovation, technology and unwavering commitment, brands have begun to make crucial change and prioritise sustainability. 2020 has been a circuit breaker for consumers and businesses alike to reconsider what is truly important.
We now have ten years to achieve the 2030 targets set by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. It is time to push for a greater good.