With 85% of people worldwide becoming ‘greener’ in their purchasing habits, it's not enough to just say that your company cares about sustainability – you have to back it up.
This has led to a rise in sustainability auditors – such as Sweep, Lune and SKOOT – which provide services to companies who want to track their green credentials. But, given that every industry is different, businesses need to think carefully about the best way to calculate and communicate their impact.
Keeping it in-house
Chris Forbes, co-founder of The Cheeky Panda, which creates tissue, hygiene and beauty products from bamboo, felt that third-party services measured only parts of the process and weren't giving an accurate picture of the difference his business was making.
The Cheeky Panda doesn't just save carbon through its choice of raw material, but it also offsets the carbon released during production. Chris says that every business is unique, so creating your own calculator allows you to tailor the data to your practices and choice of materials.
‘Unlike trees, bamboo doesn't release sequestered [stored] carbon upon harvest, for example. We believe it's important that our consumers understand this,’ he explains. ‘There's still not a commercially available carbon calculator like the one we've created.’
Chris worked with consultancy firm Carbon Footprint to provide data on ‘cradle-to-grave’ carbon accuracy. He tracked down comparable data – such as how many trees it typically takes to make one ton of tissue pulp – which was used to calculate how The Cheeky Panda's bamboo products fare versus competitors (such as recycled tissue paper).
Using this data, he created his own sustainability calculator, which measures the number of containers shipped, tons of bamboo used, carbon saved per ton of bamboo, carbon offset per ton, carbon removed per ton, number of trees saved per ton, number of trees saved per acre and total acres saved.
Creating a sustainability calculator in-house wasn't cheap or easy: it took six months to complete and cost around £10,000. But Chris wanted to provide credible and tangible calculations showing the carbon footprint throughout the product's life cycle.
‘The sustainability calculator was a non-core part of our business, so spending management time and consulting costs was a tough decision,’ he says. ‘However, we also felt, for transparency, it was the right thing to do and a foundation to measure not just our impact to date but also our intended future impact.’
Being green brings in the green
Chris says the tool helps the company hold itself accountable. Instead of saying ‘We save trees’, the business can now accurately reveal how many trees it's saved – a clear signpost to sustainability-minded customers (and, for the record, it's 250,000 so far).
But it's also useful in other parts of the business. Chris can present the data to wholesale clients to show how much carbon they're saving by stocking bamboo tissue compared with other competitor brands (which they can also show their customers). Plus, with demand for environmental, social and governance (ESG) investments growing, the pressure is on for businesses to prove that they aren't exaggerating or misrepresenting claims. The Cheeky Panda has been fundraising and Chris says his calculator ‘wowed’ ESG investors when he presented it.
‘None of the businesses they see are able to measure the environmental impact of their business in such a tangible way,’ he says.
A version of this article was published in the Courier Weekly newsletter. For more insights, analysis and inspiration, sign up here.