Earth Overshoot Day keeps coming earlier, and it’s not an occasion we want to celebrate. It’s the day our annual demand for ecosystem goods and services, like cropland, timber, fish stocks and carbon dioxide absorption, begin to exceed what ecosystems are able to renew in a year. Calculated by Global Footprint Network, Earth Overshoot Day reminds us that we are consistently borrowing from the future, and a more aggressive approach to sustainability isn’t an aspiration, it’s a need.
Corporate sustainability is evolving. In its early days, sustainability was tantamount to reducing harm by making products and processes “less bad.” With a glimpse of the competitive advantage that could be achieved, companies began to embed sustainability principles at the core of decision-making. Sustainability today goes beyond the walls of the organization — it’s now about using brand, purchasing and political power to influence stakeholders and create positive change.
Two terms have recently emerged to articulate what the “new sustainability” will look like: the “activist company” and “net positive.” The activist company, a term coined in a trends report by Reputation Inc., refers to companies that “take ownership of issues they can influence beyond their organizations’ boundaries.” They do this by encouraging mindful consumption to reduce pressure on natural resources and minimize waste. They actively influence policy to create industry-wide change and collaborate with industry partners (and even competitors) to bring about innovation. They take a stance on social and environmental issues and create meaningful incentives to encourage their consumers and partners to act in ethical and responsible ways.
The activist company is broadening its sphere of influence to strengthen its connection with consumers and get in front of sustainability issues that may impact future growth. Such companies are willing to use their resources and influence to address issues that impact their company, other organizations, their surrounding communities and the planet overall. Patagonia’s “Don’t buy this jacket” campaign is a case in point. By encouraging their customers to value quality over quantity, Patagonia is shaping consumer preferences and reinforcing loyalty to the brand, all while staying true to the company’s longstanding ethic of corporate responsibility. Max Burgers in Sweden is deliberately encouraging its customers to eat less beef. Not only does their campaign build a relationship with consumers, it reduces their reliance on a costly and greenhouse-gas intensive product.
From “Less Bad” to “More Good”