Importance of traceability in business sustainability claims
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Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash
Our planet is drowning in plastic waste. Discarded single-use plastic is polluting beyond our communities, reaching even the most remote locations in Antarctica1 and the high peak of Mt. Everest2. What’s worse is that plastic pollution now affects human blood. Microplastics appeared in blood samples of 17 out of 22 healthy adults who participated in a recent study3.
With these developments, governments are implementing policies to curb the plastic tide and businesses are contributing to the efforts by adopting sustainable practices in their operations. In a study conducted by Deloitte, 75 percent of executives said their companies increased their sustainability investments, and 59 percent have taken action to help the planet by using more sustainable materials in their products and packaging4. SC Johnson, for example, integrated Social Plastic®, Plastic Bank’s recycled plastic feedstock, in the packaging of its Windex brand in North America and Mr. Muscle in the UK.
Aside from saving the planet, taking accountability and responsibility for plastic production and consumption impacts the reputation and profitability of businesses. In fact, when it comes to brands with purpose, consumers are 4x more likely to purchase from the company, 4.5x more likely to recommend, 4.1x more likely to trust, and 6x more likely to protect the company in the event of a crisis5. This is another reason why more businesses are taking action to stop ocean plastic.
Green hushing and greenwashing
What’s surprising is that many organizations choose not to speak about the good they are doing for our planet – an act called green hushing. Onclusive’s recent study mentioned that 72 percent of 1,200 surveyed executives said their organizations have set Net Zero targets, but 23 percent have no plans of sharing their actions with the public to avoid potential damage to their brand reputation6. But how can this negatively affect their image when they are helping heal the planet?
With the rise of ethical consumerism, stakeholders are keen to know if the brands they support are making a genuine impact on the planet. When brands claim that they are incorporating sustainability practices but are unable to back up their claims, the public is quick to accuse them of greenwashing – when companies deceive the public that their products, aims, and policies are environmentally friendly. So some businesses keep their actions silent to avoid naming and shaming.
From 2019 to 2022, discussions about greenwashing on mainstream and social media doubled every year6. Hence, any business that wants to communicate its environmental agenda must have a solid strategy to prove its claims or be ready for heavy public scrutiny.
Avoiding greenwashing accusations
If you are a business leader, there are many ways you can prevent having your organization tied to greenwashing. Onclusive recommends studying your stakeholder groups, which include consumers, employees, mass media, the public, politicians, NGOs, and regulators. Each stakeholder has different concerns and priorities, so a communications strategy with specific messaging for them can help you build your credibility.
But, of course, you cannot authentically communicate anything without data to support your sustainability claims. So, the most important thing before going public is to ensure you are able to track the journey of your products and services.
Traceability tracks a product or service from its origin, all the way to its destination, through all stages of production, processing, and distribution. For environmental claims, this means being able to trace the impact of a product or service on the environment from start to finish. Your stakeholders can see how products are made or services are provided, and what measures are taken to reduce their impact on the environment. Through traceability, you can maintain the trust between your brand and stakeholders while promoting a more sustainable future for all.
Traceability through technology
Today, companies rely on technology to effectively implement traceability in business operations. One example is the use of blockchain technology – a digital ledger that allows for secure, transparent tracking of transactions or data. It particularly revolutionizes the supply chain industry by creating immutable records that are secure and tamper-resistant. By utilizing blockchain technology, the product and its associated data are stored permanently, allowing consumers to access it at any time.
The social enterprise Plastic Bank is one of the businesses leveraging blockchain to trace impact on the planet. Plastic Bank stops plastic from flowing into the ocean by turning plastic waste into a currency that its collection community members can exchange for secure income and life-improving benefits. Exchanges are recorded through the PlasticBank® app, powered by its proprietary blockchain-secured platform that enables traceable collection, secures income, and verifies reporting. The collected material is processed into Social Plastic® feedstock for reuse in products and packaging.
With traceability at the heart of its operations, Plastic Bank is able to follow the journey of plastic that enters its ecosystem and provide stakeholders with visibility to the impact they are making. The app is used to record the details of every exchange from Plastic Bank’s registered collection members to its collection branches, all the way to the processors who ship the materials for manufacturing. When the branch delivers the collected plastic to the processing partner, the Plastic Bank team validates the material received with the app recordings to unlock the bonus payments throughout the collection chain.
This way, the social enterprise is able to provide claims support for impact to its partners and accelerate their ESG journey. Some of the key data points reported by Plastic Bank include the total kilograms of plastic waste stopped from entering the ocean, the equivalent number of plastic bottles for every kilogram of plastic waste collected, the number of communities impacted, and collection members whose lives improved by being part of the recycling ecosystem.
No matter how you plan to implement traceability in your business, it can help you demonstrate your company’s environmental responsibility without worrying about greenwashing accusations. Learn more about how Plastic Bank uses blockchain technology for traceability or how you can stop ocean plastic with your business at plasticbank.com.
1. Alister Doyle, “Plastic waste has reached the most remote parts of Antarctica,” World Economic Forum, June 8, 2018, https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2018/06/plastic-waste-in-antarctica-reveals-scale-of-global-pollution-greenpeace/
2. Carolyn Wilke, “Plastics are showing up in the world’s most remote places, including Mount Everest,” Science News, November 20, 2020 https://www.sciencenews.org/article/plastics-remote-places-microplastics-earth-mount-everest
3. Heather A. Leslie, et al, “Discovery and quantification of plastic particle pollution in human blood” Environment International, Volume 163, May 2022 https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160412022001258
4. “Deloitte 2023 CxO Sustainability Report,” Deloitte, 2023, https://www.deloitte.com/global/en/issues/climate/content/deloitte-cxo-sustainability-report.html
5. “Unveiling The 2020 Zeno Strength of Purpose Study,” Zeno, June 17, 2020 https://www.zenogroup.com/insights/2020-zeno-strength-purpose
6. “Building brand reputation in an era of greenwashing backlash,” Onclusive, January 11, 2023, https://onclusive.com/resources/whitepaper/building-brand-reputation-in-an-era-of-greenwashing-backlash