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How Brands Are Turning A Corner On Sustainability

With increased consumer pressure, brands are addressing big issues such as plastic misuse.


There is a growing recognition that what we do in the next ten years will determine the quality of life for the next 1000 years. Perhaps there is now an understanding that this generation is the first to have the unequivocal facts at its fingertips and the last to do be able to do anything about it and the burden of this responsibility is starting to hit home.

This decade is the pivot point in history, so the U.N. has called it the ‘Decisive Decade’. Global industry is now awake to the reality of climate impact and the need for unsustainable brands and organisational models to transform. A recent YouGov survey of U.K. businesses said that 46 percent of respondents were on track to be carbon neutral by 2030, which is positive.

However, this does leave the majority of companies without ambition. Change needs to happen faster. Businesses need help. They need to understand their carbon neutrals from their zero carbons.

Leading by example

One industry sector with a strong focus on sustainability is Retail and Consumer Goods, where purpose-driven consumers apply pressure to brands to align their products and services with their values. We do a significant amount of work in this industry for household names such as Gap, Tesco, Nestle and Amazon.

Target for example, is one of the largest U.S. retailers, with 1,900 stores and 368,000 employees. When Anthesis, a sustainable consultancy, partnered with Target on its sustainability goals, they met the rigorous requirements of the Science Based Target initiative (SBTi). SBTi is the organisation that helps companies align with climate science and the COP 21 Paris Agreement, keeping global temperature increases below 2 degrees Celsius.

Adding a Scope 3 reduction goal places Target among the select U.S. companies with SBTi-approved goals to reduce carbon emissions throughout its supply chain. Its goals include reducing its absolute Scope 1, 2 and 3* greenhouse gas emissions by 30 per cent below 2017 levels by 2030 and committing that 80 per cent of its suppliers will set science-based reduction targets on their Scope 1 and 2 emissions by 2023. Target’s Science Based Target is seen as leading in the retail industry. It enables Target to take decisive and comprehensive action on climate change by tackling key hotspots and areas of opportunity with their suppliers.

Achieving carbon neutral or Net Zero, as its also familiarly called, requires coordinated action touching on many aspects of the organisation. What may seem daunting can be broken down into strategic and manageable pathways for transformation. It starts with analytics, moves on to developing solutions, and ends in implementing change.

Consumer pressure

When Anthesis was established in 2013, sustainability was still positioned as a CSR-led topic. Fast-forward to 2017 and with the public interest in Sir David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II series, consumer pressure took control. Brands listened to consumer demands, such as plastic misuse, and the investor market started to take note and focus on businesses who demonstrate they are a force for good.

During the last few years sustainability has moved from being seen as cosmetic or inconsequential; it’s now a boardroom discussion with CEO accountability. 2021 has been a strong start to the year. The inauguration of President Biden and his signals to move towards a greener economy is a massive boost. Even Brexit isn’t looking to be as problematic as people feared, and with COP26 on the horizon, these all seem to have encouraged corporates and communities to truly prioritise sustainability.

Through Palatine’s recent investment, we’ve set some ambitious targets including working with our clients to remove 3 gigatonnes of CO2e by 2030 meets to meaningfully ‘move the dial’ during this pivotal ten years. That’s the equivalent to half the emissions from the U.S. in one year or eight years of emissions in the UK and we feel it is eminently achievable.

Anthesis is the largest group of dedicated sustainability professionals globally, and one of the UK’s fastest-growing private companies. It recently secured a significant minority investment from Palatine Private Equity, a responsibly-driven, mid-market private equity firm.