Regulating purchase-enabled sustainability action in businesses—International Day of Forests 2019

Regulating purchase-enabled sustainability action in businesses—International Day of Forests 2019

First published in LexisPSL. LexisPSL Environment includes a dedicated subtopic with practical guidance and legal news items on responsible business, human rights and sustainability. Click here for a free trial of LexisPSL.

With climate change and environmental impact increasingly on businesses’ radars, there is a rising trend for purchase-enabled sustainability action business models, eg promising to plant a tree for each purchase. Tree-planting has been adopted by a growing number of companies intending to offset their carbon emissions. While this may be attractive to environment-conscious consumers, little is known about how to measure and verify the effectiveness of these models. In other words, how do we know trees are actually being planted, and what difference does this action realistically make? Jono Adams, sustainability consultant at Anthesis Group, comments on these purchase-enabled sustainability action models and the voluntary nature of regulation.

Good intentions?

Despite 80% of European companies considering climate change as a business risk, most have no targets for reducing their greenhouse gas emissions and 53% have no climate goals, according to the Carbon Disclosure Project report 2018. It appears that, despite growing concerns about climate change, many businesses are slow to accept their environmental responsibility.

Adams says the move towards purchase-enabled sustainability regimes, such as tree-planting, sometimes starts with businesses’ intention to reduce their environmental impact as much as possible but equally, it may simply be motivated by encouraging more sales of their product by appearing to be a more responsible organisation.

For the businesses that are considering their environmental responsibility—from those who want to reduce their carbon footprint to those who want to make an ‘overall positive environmental and/or social impact’—a range of options are available, such as:

  • developing a strategy that is in line with the ambitions set as part of the Paris Agreement to keep global temperature increase below 2⁰C—Adams suggests a science-based carbon target

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