As the green economy prepares for a decade of action, the UK’s largest and most prestigious sustainable business awards is back with a pledge to recognise the pioneers of the green transition
The 10th annual BusinessGreen Leaders Awards has officially launched today and is now seeking entries from the UK’s most exciting and innovative green businesses, projects, executives, and campaigners.
This year’s awards will take place on the evening of Wednesday June 24th at The Brewery in central London, bringing together around 600 of the UK’s top green business executives, investors, and entrepreneurs with a raft of leading politicians, investors, and campaigners.
As ever, attendees on the evening will enjoy a gala dinner and awards ceremony, keynote speeches from some of the leading figures in the green economy, a unique networking opportunity, and a chance to celebrate the successes of the most vibrant and important of sectors.
Organisations and individuals wishing to enter this year’s awards now have until 5pm on Friday March 27th to submit their entries.
“It is hard to believe that the BusinessGreen Leaders Awards are already celebrating their tenth edition and have now been highlighting the trail-blazing successes of the green economy for a decade,” said BusinessGreen editor-in-chief James Murray. “Over that time we’ve seen green business models and clean technology projects evolve from a niche concern to one of the driving forces for the entire UK economy. The next decade and its transition towards a net zero emission economy will inevitably make the sector ever more important and as such there has never been a better time to come together to celebrate our collective green economic progress.”
This year’s awards comes right in the middle of a critical year for both BusinessGreen and the UK’s climate efforts, as the country prepares to stage the crucial COP26 Climate Summit in November and we host the inaugural Net Zero Festival on September 30th.
As such, the BusinessGreen Leaders Awards want to hear from as many of the UK’s pioneering green businesses, teams, and NGOs as possible, as the brand continues in its mission to further raise the profiles of the individuals and organisations that will power the UK’s net zero transition.
“As last year’s Lifetime Achievement Award Winner, Lord Deben, has argued we are entering a critical decade during which the world will either move onto a net zero decarbonisation trajectory or condemn future generations to escalating climate impacts,” said Murray. “It has never been more important for pioneering green businesses to both redouble their efforts and publicly demonstrate the multiple benefits that arise from clean technologies and sustainable business models.”
As in previous years, the BusinessGreen Leaders Awards are free to enter, but in order to invest in staging the UK’s most prestigious green business awards the terms and conditions for the awards require all shortlisted companies to book tickets to attend the gala evening.
Some of last year’s winners reflect on what the awards mean to them
Duncan Clarke, Head of Region UK at Ørsted, said:
“Each year, the BusinessGreen Leaders awards brings together the industry’s best and brightest in a celebration of innovation, talent, and ambition that is truly inspiring. We’re very proud to have been named Company of the Year for two years’ running, but what makes us even prouder is to see the incredible work being done by companies and individuals, all striving to make a real difference in the fight against climate change.”
Katharine Teague, Head of Advocacy & Sustainability at AB Sugar, said:
“Given the environmental challenges facing the world and business today, it’s important to celebrate the inspiring sustainability work and innovation from individuals and business across all industries through platforms such as the BusinessGreen Leaders Awards. We can all learn from one another, have a greater impact on the planet and accelerate progress. But businesses can’t do it on their own any longer and standing still certainly isn’t an option.
“It was an honour to win the award for Sustainability Executive of the Year, to have our achievements and performance recognised by such a prestigious panel of judges from across industries. We are motivated to keep improving, innovating and driving change over the next decade to help us achieve our 2030 commitments.”
Jonathan Fenton-Jones, Operations Director at Baytree, said:
“Baytree were honoured to win the Building Project of the Year award at the BusinessGreen Leaders Awards 2019 for our new warehouse building in Dunstable.
The Award has encouraged Baytree to strive for better efficiency in the design and construction process via increased digitisation with the aim of reducing waste in all its forms… Winning the Award has enabled Baytree as a business to raise its profile as a developer of industry leading projects with a major focus on environmental, social and community wellbeing whilst also featuring significantly in the company’s marketing activities throughout the year.”
Ilias Vazaios, Partner at Ecuity, said:
“We were so proud to be named 2019 BusinessGreen Consultancy of the Year. This accolade is a great reflection of our transition into a highly capable team with a wider impact on the decarbonisation debate. The enthusiasm generated through participation in the awards has been wonderful.”
Mastercard claims its customers reach almost three billion cardholders
Coalition pledges to plant 100 million trees over next five years by harnessing the wide corporate reach of Mastercard credit card services
Mastercard has teamed up with a clutch of major companies, global banks, and transport authorities to deliver a fresh collaborative drive to ramp up private sector climate efforts, together launching a corporate coalition which has pledged to help plant 100 million trees over the next five years.
The Priceless Planet Coalition, which is described as a “platform to unite corporate sustainability efforts and make meaningful investments to preserve the environment”, focuses on members working closely together to amplify their existing sustainability efforts.
Founding partners of the coalition include Citibank, Santander UK, IHS Markit, bunq, Saks Fifth Avenue, L.L. Bean, New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Transport for London, and American Airlines. Further members are also expected to be announced soon, said Mastercard, which is spearheading the initiative.
Ajay Banga, Mastercard’s CEO and president, argued business responsibility now extended far beyond individual efforts, and said the private sector could make a bigger impact on tackling climate change by combining environmental projects and efforts to engage consumers.
“No matter who you are or what you do, climate change affects you,” he said. “But, it has the biggest negative impact on those who are socially and economically vulnerable. The time for just negating our environmental footprint has passed. Our best chance at changing the course we’re on and setting us all up for better futures is for companies and consumers to pull in the same direction towards a shared goal, real change can happen.”
As well as implementing their own sustainability strategies, participating firms are being encouraged to work on new joint projects together. These include an early initiative that will see trees planted in return for consumers for travelling on public transport in cities such as London, New York, Stockholm, Akara, “and many others”, Mastercard said.
In order to realise the Coalition’s pledge to plant 100 million trees over the next five years, Mastercard said it had selected green groups Conservation International and the World Resources Institute (WRI) to lead efforts to implement and monitor the long-term project.
Meanwhile, Mastercard’s corporate card customers will also be able to contribute to the forestation initiative every time their employees use their cards for travel, goods, and services, it explained.
The firm estimated its customers currently reached almost three billion consumer and corporate cardholders, and said one of the key elements of the Coalition was to empower these cardholders to make changes to their lives to help reduce their climate impact.
“We are committed to help advance change. We have an incredible network of reach. We have an incredible network of partners. We can put them to work to help deliver positive impact for the environment in the form of a Priceless Planet Coalition,” Banga added.
GFG Alliance is to bring its aluminium assets together into a single global entity committed to delivering carbon neutrality
Metals giant to integrate all its aluminium assets into a single business committed to delivering carbon neutrality by 2030
GFG Alliance, the industrial conglomerate owned by the Gupta family, has today announced plans to create a new global low carbon aluminium “champion” that will see the company integrate all its assets from across the aluminium value chain into a single entity.
Dubbed ALVANCE, the new venture will be headquartered in Paris and will employ over 1,700 people globally. It will be covered by GFG Alliance’s company-wide pledge to become ‘carbon neutral’ by 2030.
Announcing the move ahead of his appearance at the Choose France Summit today, Sanjeev Gupta, executive chairman of the GFG Alliance, said ALVANCE would aim to establish itself as a “champion” for green aluminium.
“Extending our CN30target [carbon neutrality goal] to this part of the business is both a logical and necessary step in its development,” he added. “Given the rise in customer demand for stronger, lighter-weight, recyclable materials, we see aluminium as a key opportunity for growth and sustainable profitability. However, we operate in an international market that’s both cyclical and under competitive pressure, and so by combining our businesses, we’re looking to achieve greater synergies, increase efficiencies and ensure the business is fit to meet the challenges ahead.”
He also argued the commitment to develop green aluminium would give the company a “unique selling point” as it looks to meet growing demand from the automotive and industrial sectors.
ALVANCE’s portfolio includes Europe’s largest aluminium smelter in Dunkerque, the UK’s only remaining aluminium smelter at Fort William in Scotland, and a number of French automotive component manufacturers.
The company has also conditionally agreed to acquire Belgium’s Duffel aluminium rolling facilities and is participating in an approval process with the European Commission’s competition team.
The group said it is well positioned to accelerate the development of a low carbon aluminium supply chain given it already exploits low carbon power sources, with its Fort William smelter powered by GFG Alliance’s nearby hydro-electric station and the Dunkerque smelter powered using France’s predominantly nuclear and hydro-electric fuelled power grid.
Arnaud de Weert, ALVANCE chief executive, said the new venture aims to be “at the vanguard of sustainable production of materials that will help the automotive and other sectors deliver lighter, greener, more efficient products”.
Sajid Javid is expected to prioritise climate action in his forthcoming Budget
Business and environmental groups again warn that move away from EU standards could harm UK environment and green industry progress
In the end the plan was exactly as many business and environmental groups had feared. During last month’s election campaign the FT reported that the government was preparing to make the freedom to diverge…
A new tool, released today, aims to push apparel and home furnishings companies further toward sustainability, and ramps up efforts by the textile and fashion industries to align material choices with the Sustainable Development Goals.
The Material Change Index (MCI) produced by the nonprofit Textile Exchange, is part of that organization’s Corporate Fiber & Materials Benchmark program, which enables participating companies to measure, manage and integrate a preferred fiber and materials strategy into their business. The index was created in part through the voluntary participation of more than 170 companies, including major brands such as Adidas, C&A, Gucci, IKEA, Inditex, Nike, Patagonia and Tchibo.
GreenBiz Group is serving as the lead media partner for the launch of the index, including publishing a series of articles produced by the Textile Exchange over the coming weeks with actionable insights for apparel and textile companies looking to source raw materials more sustainably. The MCI family of indices tracks progress across cotton, polyester, nylon, manmade cellulosics, down, wool, material circularity and the SDGs.
The index launch comes at a pivotal moment for the fashion industry, which has been under increased scrutiny for its environmental and social impacts. One reason is that the fashion industry’s sprawling supply chains stitches together a wide range of sectors and concerns, including agriculture, chemicals, energy, forestry, oil and gas, retail and transportation. And in each of those lies a range of extraction, energy, emissions and waste challenges, as well as a variety of social issues, from animal welfare to the rights of indigenous cultures.
The Textile Exchange focuses on the fiber material portion, “the very beginning of a quite long and often quite convoluted supply chain,” explains Liesl Truscott, director of the organization’s European and materials strategy. “It can get either forgotten about or is relatively invisible when the industry looks at the apparel and footwear and home textiles that are being produced.”
Truscott’s organization has been working for nearly two decades to bring visibility into the industry’s supply chain. It began its life as the Organic Cotton Exchange, then became the Organic Exchange, now the Textile Exchange, at each step taking on an increasingly broad portfolio — from cotton to additional materials, and from organic to other means of growing and producing sustainable textiles.
Along the way, the group, which has roughly 200 member companies — including brands, retailers and suppliers — has created a series of industry standards, covering organic content, recycled claims, chain-of-custody verification and “responsible down,” as in the feathery type.
“When you think about the whole volume of the industry, we still may be small in number, but we’re mighty in leadership,” LaRhea Pepper, the Textile Exchange’s managing director, told me recently. “We definitely have the brands and retailers and their supply network that are driving and being innovative and adopting those best practices, experimenting with business models, and really homing in on how they can make the best impact.”
At the core of the Textile Exchange’s work is a benchmarking program, in which companies disclose a range of policies and practices, and their performance against each, via a secure online portal. The information submitted by companies is reviewed by the Textile Exchange and verified by an independent third party. The group also publishes a leaderboard of volume users of sustainable fibers, including which companies are using the sustainability standards associated with those fibers.
“It taps into a company’s natural instincts to be competitive, to be able to lead in improvements, and so there’s a bit of a friendly race to the top that’s incorporated into a benchmarking program,” explained Truscott.
The disclosure process itself is significant, she explained, by requiring companies themselves to better understand the sources and conditions under which their materials are produced. “At one point, if you asked a company where their cotton is coming from, they wouldn’t know or wouldn’t really be expected to know. Now, with the standards and the traceability that chain-of-custody can provide, we have better tools for collecting that data, centralizing it and being able to see further back. And Country of Origin was something nobody talked about a few years ago, and now it’s fairly common, particularly among the leaders and those that are fast catching up.”
To be sure, while materials typically represent the lion’s share of an apparel company’s supply chain, it may be only a fraction of its environmental impact. At C&A, the European fashion manufacturer and retailer that’s been a leader in circular economy, “Raw materials represent 17 percent of our impact” from a life-cycle perspective, Jeffrey Hogue, the company’s chief sustainability officer and a Textile Exchange member, told me.
Still, he said, sustainable sourcing can have an outsized impact, both internally and externally. “I think that the leading brands create a very holistic approach around sourcing sustainable fibers, where it’s not just about gaining more volume and using a third party to verify. It’s about educating our buying and sourcing organization to make the right decisions when they’re faced with difficult tradeoffs. It’s about going beyond certifications and actually putting our feet on the ground to evaluate with our own eyes what’s happening there and to create more engagement at the farm level. It’s about improving livelihoods.”
It will be interesting to watch how the Materials Change Index moves companies and, ultimately markets, and how broadly it is adopted beyond the current Textile Exchange membership. “I think there’s a lot more opportunity for the industry to come together collectively to work on these problems and not just having a number of leading brands setting their own commitments in isolation of other entities,” says Hogue.
Adds Pepper: “It’s exciting, because there’s finally this awakening at this bigger level, but it’s also daunting at some level of, ‘Whoa, we’ve got a lot of work to do.’ But I think the thing that’s most hopeful is that we have a direction of travel.”
The following is adapted from State of Green Business 2020, published by GreenBiz in partnership with Trucost, part of financial information and analytics giant S&P Global.
After decades of steering clear of specific climate commitments, the international maritime industry — responsible for 3 percent (and growing) of annual global greenhouse gas emissions — is navigating a course to halve its footprint by 2050. Not since Italian explorer Christopher Columbus set course for the New World in 1492 has the global shipping fleet faced such an uncharted challenge.
The voyage embarked in mid-2018 when the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the United Nations agency that sets policies and standards worldwide, embraced its inaugural decarbonization strategy. This course falls short of what’s needed to achieve the 1.5 or 2 degrees Celsius temperature mitigation goals set by the Paris Agreement. Still, it is an important chart for the future.
The first port of call came in early 2020, when a regulation capping sulfur emissions took effect, forcing ship owners to start phasing out the low-cost bunker fuels that have been keeping fleets afloat but that have exacerbated air pollution in coastal cities. “As a bilateral agreement, it may be the best we can get,” observes Ned Harvey, managing director of Rocky Mountain Institute, in charge of the think tank’s work on pathways for heavy transport. “No goal is a disaster. A science-based goal is optimal.”
Like the jetliners that transport business travelers and vacationers around the planet, the 50,000-vessel tanker, freighter and cargo ship fleet that floats trillions of dollars worth of goods across Earth’s oceans sits outside the decision-making authority of any one nation. But its impact on climate change is titanic. More than 90 percent of global trade is tied to international shipping: We’re talking more than 10.7 billion metric tons per year. What’s more, activity could triple by 2050, due to the boom in e-commerce, infrastructure investments (especially in China and India) and the ambition of emerging nations rich in natural resources (think Africa) finding their place in the global economy.
When the IMO set its compass heading in 2018, some countries such as the Marshall Islands, which controls the second-largest ship registry after Panama, called for higher ambition. Others — notably Brazil, Saudi Arabia and the United States that rely heavily on exports of natural resources — refused to agree to any emissions reductions in absolute terms. China has been setting progressively tighter emissions controls.
Rough seas are ahead, in part because of the huge technical and financial challenges. The IMO’s head of air pollution and energy efficiency, Edmund Hughes, put it this way: Achieving a 50 percent reduction by 2050 requires every existing ship to reduce its individual emissions by up to 85 percent.
Complicating matters is the decades-long life expectancy of the existing fleet, a fact of life being addressed by banks that finance those assets. U.S.-based Citi, France’s Societe Generale and Norway’s DNB have teamed with two of the world’s largest carrier companies, A.P. Møller-Mærsk and Cargill Ocean Transportation, to create the Poseidon Principles, which apply climate change considerations to ship financing decisions. Supporters include the Netherlands’ ING, France’s Credit Agricole and Britain’s Lloyd’s Register.
“Shipping’s decarbonization will require unparalleled innovation,” says Søren Toft, chief operating officer and executive vice president of Mærsk, the world’s largest container shipping company, when the Poseidon Principles were launched in June.
Maersk hopes to cut emissions 60 percent before 2030 and is steering toward a zero-carbon future by 2050. That will take billions of dollars of investment. “A modern ship is a highly capital-intensive asset with a typical life span of 25 to 30 years,” Toft notes. “To deliver on ambitious climate targets, zero-emission vessels will need to enter the fleet by 2030. This leaves us only 10 years to develop the new marine fuels, propulsion technologies and infrastructures that will be required.”
The short-term efficiency approaches being embraced by carriers and ship owners are myriad — ranging from relatively simple gestures such as applying paints from companies such as AkzoNobel that enable vessels to glide through water more smoothly; using digital services from the likes of Flexport or Freightos that aim to streamline logistics to optimize loads; and outfitting ships with futuristic retrofits, notably rotor sails that harness the power of wind to assist with propulsion.
One company gaining notoriety in the latter space is Finland’s Norsepower, which is testing 30-meter, cylindrical mechanical sails. During a year-long test on a Mærsk tanker, the sails cut fuel consumption almost 8.2 percent.
Over the long term, sustainable shipping will require major breakthroughs in low-carbon fuel and propulsion technologies. “When I look at the landscape of alternative propulsion technologies, I don’t think there’s going to be any one silver bullet,” says Nico De Golia, sustainable transport collaborator with BSR.
What’s on the horizon? Some ideas making waves for their audacity are Vindskip, a hybrid vessel design using wind and liquid natural gas (LNG) that mimics the aerodynamics of an airplane wing; or Ecoship from NYK, which combines “flapping foil” propellers with hydrogen and solar power.
Practically speaking, however, the prime driver of what’s viable will be energy intensity: Any fuel replacement must be easy to store on-board without compromising safety, weight or a ship’s carrying volume. Among options being discussed actively are LNG, a big focus for U.S. carrier Crowley and certification body DNV GL, although most in the industry see this as bridge fuel; biofuels, problematic from an availability, infrastructure investment and sustainability standpoint; and hydrogen and ammonia, which carry special storage considerations that are a downside.
Aside from the IMO directive, carriers are being rocked by a rising tide of action, represented by the Clean Cargo alliance, a working group that includes big consumer products companies including Amazon, BMW, H&M Group, Heineken, IKEA and Levi Strauss, as well as massive carriers such as Mærsk, Crowley and Cosco, China’s largest carrier. Several of those companies have allied with Mærsk and Norwegian car transport carrier Wallenius Wilhelmsen on an initiative to test a blend of ethanol and lignin, a bioproduct of papermills. Testing is expected during 2020.
Will that bold pilot have a ripple effect? This sort of corporate ambition will help the shipping sector set sail in the right direction, but to reach the elusive Port Zero Emissions will take expert navigation in untested waters.
This article is adapted from GreenBiz’s weekly newsletter, Circular Weekly, running Fridays. Subscribe here.
This week, The Ellen MacArthur Foundation released Circulytics, which it’s calling “the most comprehensive circularity measurement tool,” according to the announcement. As more companies set ambitious — albeit loosely defined — circularity goals, the critical need for standardizing definitions and metrics is becoming increasingly clear.
Circulytics aims to fill this gap, helping companies such as IKEA and Unilever assess their organizational circularity, including “Enablers,” mechanisms such as strategy, infrastructure and external engagement, as well as “Outcomes,” operational inputs and outputs. It’s only the latest of a growing circularity toolkit helping to define and formalize circularity.
At the systems level, measuring circularity is primarily understood as a matter of quantifying material flows. At the business level, companies are beginning to use circularity frameworks as an internal tool to assess the full scope of materials associated with their operations and to understand the potential value and progress of circular strategies and tactics in action. And, at the product level, new metrics can build on and contextualize go-to tools such as the life-cycle assessment to understand the holistic impacts of design decisions.
Here are some additional players I’m tracking in the circular metrics arena:
Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute — Set to launch later this year, the fourth version of the Cradle to Cradle Certified Product Standard will feature an updated Product Circularity category, focused on sourcing, design and systems.
Global Reporting Initiative (PDF) — Launching its updated standard in Q1 of this year, GRI will be the first global standard that includes principles of circularity into waste disclosures, shifting the framing from an unwanted burden to a holistically managed material.
UL Environment — Companies can pursue certification of UL 3600, which measures and reports on the circularity of products, facilities and organizations.
U.S. Green Building Council — In late 2019, USGBC launched a circular economy pilot credit in its LEED rating system, which includes considerations of supply chain circularity, zero waste manufacturing, circular design and closed-loop systems.
World Business Council for Sustainable Development — Set to launch next week at the World Economic Forum, Circular Transition Indicators provides a framework to assess a company’s circularity, and quantify the value of shifting towards more circular approaches.
Each tool grounds a circular economy’s promise in data, breaking intentions and aspirations into the calculable, trackable and comparable bite-sized pieces that make up this new economic model.
At all levels — systems, business and product — the development of specific and actionable metrics is a key accelerator for circularity at scale. Of course, the operative word is actionable. Quantifying circularity proves valuable only to the extent that they align with planetary boundaries and science-based climate targets.
Further, a myopic understanding of data points and material flows won’t define the future of circularity on its own. The human, on-the-ground realities of shifts and changes must be tracked and understood through a qualitative lens as well.
To read more about the growth, potential and gaps within the emerging category of circular metrics, I invite you to read the 2020 State of Green Business report, released last week, in which GreenBiz identified circular metrics as one of 10 key sustainable business trends for the year ahead.
Back in 2015, Thai Union had run into choppy waters. The multi-billion dollar seafood giant behind global tinned fish brands John West in the United Kingdom, Chicken of the Sea in the United States and King Oscar in Norway, among many others, had a PR shipwreck in its sights, and needed to shift coordinates swiftly.
Exposés in the New York Times, Associated Press and The Guardian had laid bare human rights abuses, forced labor and environmentally destructive fishing methods in Asian supply chains for canned seafood and prawns that ended up in U.K. supermarkets, placing Thai Union — one of the biggest producers in the world — firmly in the media and campaigner firing line.
Greenpeace didn’t mince its words, calling on consumers and investors to boycott the company, accusing it of “sacrificing the world’s oceans” and “destructive, wasteful fishing practices from its supply chains.”
“For far too long Thai Union Group has passed the blame onto others and hidden behind ineffective policies,” Greenpeace campaigner Graham Forbes said at the time. “Until this industry giant takes responsibility and demonstrates real leadership, we will work to ensure that every single customer knows it’s not just tuna that comes with buying one of its tainted brands.”
The firm is navigating a turnaround towards more sustainable practices — albeit with some way to go — that many, many corporates may have to chart in the coming years, or face increasingly angry regulators, investors and consumers, not to mention fierce competition from greener challengers and widespread market disruption. It is a binary choice between seeking change or being changed; sinking or swimming.
And Thai Union, according to CEO Thiraphong Chansiri, chose to swim. “We are one of the leading seafood companies in Thailand,” he said in a 2018 interview. “It is our responsibility to correct the situation and make it right.”
So how did a pariah of corporate sustainability pivot to a greener business strategy so rapidly?
One of its first steps was the appointment of Darian McBain, hired as global director of corporate affairs and sustainability in 2015 to spearhead the firm’s SeaChange sustainability strategy. Armed with a Ph.D. in global supply chain analysis and experience from a string of top-level sustainability roles at the United Nations, WWF and even the NHS, she was deemed the ideal candidate — if an ambitious hire for a firm that was at the time facing the ire of environmentalists. But perhaps most interesting of all, McBain is a vegetarian.
“They did find out eventually — I didn’t declare it in the interview,” she tells BusinessGreen of her fishless diet. “To me, I joined the company because I really love the oceans.”
Still, a company boasting $4.1 billion in seafood sales that has been linked to unsustainable fishing practices and dogged by human rights concerns hardly looks like an obvious career move for an environmentalist plant-eater. But having spent much of her career in academia, NGOs and as managing director of business consultancy Blue Sky Green in her native Sydney, McBain was ready for a change.
“I just thought this was a great opportunity to put my environmental and social skills together with a supply chain to make a real difference,” she explains. “It was interesting when I was going through the interview process, because I was interviewing them as much as they were interviewing me. I wanted to make sure they genuinely wanted to make a change.”
McBain admits Thai Union was “nowhere” on sustainability when she joined, but stresses the firm has been genuinely committed to becoming a greener and more ethical entity throughout its core business and supply chain. And she relishes being able to affect change at a global corporate, which in comparison to working in governments or NGOs enables her to “actually get things done.”
“You are not just working by influence and suggesting policy change, or campaigning against change, you are the agent of change,” she explains. “You don’t need to wait for others to do it for you — you have the power to change the way we do business. And if it makes sense then you can do it really quickly.”
And the pace of change at the company she joined less than five years ago has been “pretty dramatic,” McBain claims.
In 2015 the firm set a series of sustainability targets to be met by the end of 2020, including sourcing a minimum of 75 percent of its branded tuna and aquaculture products from certified sustainable fisheries and farms, backed by a pledge that it would be able to trace each product back to source. From a 2016 baseline, it is also targeting a 30 percent cut in greenhouse gas emissions, a 20 percent cut in water consumption and a 20 percent cut in waste to landfill at its factories globally. It will publish its scorecard detailing its progress on these goals towards the end of this year, while also developing its next set of targets in a new 2025 SeaChange strategy. However, the company is confident it is on track with its goals.
Thai Union also joined the Global Ghost Gear Initiative in 2018, an alliance of industry, academia, NGOs and governments dedicated to tackling at scale the problem of lost fishing equipment damaging ocean environments. The Alliance estimates lost, discarded or abandoned fishing gear account for 70 percent of macro plastics in the ocean by weight, presenting a huge threat to marine wildlife.
From a standing start, Thai Union has set off at a blistering pace on its sustainability journey. But it still has some distance to travel, and consumers and campaigners inevitably will be unconvinced of the authenticity of the firm’s efforts given its past form. It is after all a major cog in a global seafood chain many argue is inherently unsustainable, with the U.N. body of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warning in 2018 fish production is continuing to grow at rapid rates globally, risking further overfishing. Future growth of the sector therefore will require continued progress in strengthening fisheries regimes, reducing loss and waste, and tackling illegal fishing pollution and climate change, the FAO said.
With that in mind, McBain has even loftier ambitions for Thai Union going forward. The company recently has begun reaching out to start-ups for innovative solutions, including through its food tech incubator program, and perhaps most interesting, it has announced several investments in the burgeoning market for alternative proteins. For example, in the United States it has teamed up with Calysta on a project to farm shrimp fed with protein created from natural gas, while in October it announced support for Flying Spark, which uses insect larvae to produce protein powder and oil. The broad aim in both cases is to develop a healthy, more sustainable fish feed alternative that reduces the environmental pressure on traditional fishmeal supply chains, which are also often harder to trace and therefore potentially more at risk from illegal fishing and labor practices.
It is very early days, but McBain says Thai Union is also considering the potential to develop alternative proteins for direct human consumption, aimed at consumers looking to reduce their intake of meat and fish.
“It’s an investment in the future,” she says. “I think if we got [alternative proteins] to between 5-10 percent [of Thai Union’s business] in the next five to 10 years, that would be an amazing achievement. We’re certainly putting that investment in that will grow that segment of the market, but obviously it needs to move in parallel with market demands.”
But she stresses the fisheries sector remains crucial to ending world hunger and malnutrition, with more than 50 percent of protein consumption coming from fish in developing nations, compared to 17 percent globally. As such, she hopes global diets “shift towards more sustainable seafood than away from it.”
“When you pair sustainable seafood with having positive climate change benefits and inherent nutrition benefits, then I would hope we see category growth in that way,” says McBain.
Having spent her first 4.5 years at the firm concentrating on labor rights, supply chain traceability and environmental sustainability targets within the core of Thai Union’s business, McBain’s immediate focus is now on broader climate action, more on which is expected to be revealed in the next sustainability strategy later this year.
She concedes there is a great deal more work to do on Thai Union’s “Scope 3” emissions, which she describes as an “unwieldy beast,” partly because it includes shipping for both fishing and freight. Tuna cans, fortunately, require little temperature control, which reduces the energy required on ships to transport them, but other seafood products can be more demanding, and shipping remains a major global emitter with no clear decarbonization path available as yet. McBain has been keeping a close eye on Austral Fisheries’ project to build a low carbon fishing vessel in Norway, and highlights greener shipping as an “essential” focus for Thai Union going forward, even though the firm does not directly own or operate any vessels.
But McBain believes the scope for a global seafood company to positively assist the climate fight is “massive,” pointing to a recent IPCC report estimating the ocean economy will contribute around a fifth of the action required to keep global warming within 2 degrees Celcius, while also bolstering climate resilience. As such the company is exploring how to support the growth and protection of mangroves in coastal communities, which could open up further opportunities to reduce Thai Union’s climate impact. Analysis earlier this month by Planet Tracker — the sister think tank to Carbon Tracker — highlighted how mangroves are a vastly overlooked conservation issue, with the farmed shrimp industry estimated to be responsible for around 30 percent of mangrove deforestation and coastal land-use change across Southeast Asia.
“Mangroves in particular have a massive ability for carbon capture and storage, and so we would really like to strengthen our approach there,” McBain explains. Her broader question, she says, is “how do we use sustainable seafood in the fight against climate change?”
“It’s all linked: we can provide healthy food while also being part of the ‘planetary diet’ — which recommends a reduction in most forms of protein and a move towards alternative proteins, but fish is still part of that diet,” she argues.
In just five years, Thai Union has come a long way due to a commendable openness to change through collaboration, experimentation and transparency. Fostering long-term trust among consumers, environmentalists and investors in an industry increasingly under the spotlight for its fishing practices will take longer still, but if McBain has her way the company soon could lead the wider sector towards a greener, more sustainable future. Within two years, for example, Thai Union might be ready to offer consumers its first net zero cans of tuna, she says.
But through it all, McBain says her motivation has not been the threat of Thai Union losing its social license to operate, but a positive desire to be on the right side of history. “We’ve already had enormous pressure from consumers from various campaigns over the past few years,” she says. “But it’s not about just making sure consumers are happy. Sometimes, if you’re a big company and you’re able to do something, you should be taking steps.”
Sustainability was a common thread at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. From improving energy efficiency to responsible recycling, more than 200 companies on the show floor had exhibitions focused on sustainable innovation.
Through these exhibitors and the myriad conference sessions, the team from Enel X noticed three major themes emerge related to the transformation of energy technology.
1. The future of transportation is electric
There is no denying consumer interest in electric vehicles is on the rise. In particular, the next two years will bring critical growth across sectors — first in the short term with personal vehicles, and then ultimately with rideshare and corporate fleets.
In a panel about advances in electric mobility, Lea Malloy, associate vice president of advanced technology at Cox Automotive, noted that EVs are growing in popularity among consumers for three reasons:
they require less maintenance compared to internal combustion engine vehicles;
they provide an opportunity to do good for the environment by decreasing carbon footprint; and
they’re unquestionably fun to drive.
At CES, we also saw an increase in companies addressing consumer concerns to further drive adoption of EVs. Consumer focus is changing from gas mileage to driving range, charging infrastructure availability and battery health. In order to continue market penetration, electric vehicle manufacturers need to prioritize education with a goal of changing consumer expectations.
Also at CES, Enel X launched its next-generation smart electric vehicle charging product line for residential, commercial, utility and automotive customers in North America. This product line, built off the Amazon best-selling JuiceBox smart home charging station, will support the decarbonization of the energy and transportation sectors. It also will accelerate the adoption of electric vehicles by providing expanded speed, performance and convenience to EV drivers.
2.Resiliency is just as important as recovery
Governments spend billions of dollars annually on disaster recovery. When preparing for emergencies and natural disasters, however, resilient infrastructure and technology is just as important.
During a panel on Ensuring Connectivity During Disasters, Boutheina Guermazi, director of digital development at the World Bank, stated that for every dollar invested in resilience, $6 to $11 can be saved in post-disaster repairs and recovery.
The communities that have the best odds at recovery following a natural disaster are the ones that embrace resilient technologies before disaster strikes, she said. Therefore, it’s critical that governments and businesses alike focus their efforts on finding a balance between both initiatives.
The resilience category at CES featured almost 40 companies that highlighted innovations that aim to tackle challenges such as environmental disasters, pollution and rising sea levels. From agricultural technology to water recycling systems, the increase in companies tackling some of the world’s most pressing issues signals the consumer technology industry’s growing attention toward climate change and sustainability.
Storage took center stage in a panel on the role of renewable energy, where Conner Prochaska, chief commercialization office for the U.S. Department of Energy, declared that “if we want to move toward a zero-emissions future, storage is key.”
Solar-plus-storage solutions enable businesses to continue powering critical equipment amid grid outages and power quality issues. The ability to self-generate, store and consume power on site not only empowers businesses to be self-sufficient when the grid goes down, but it also gives them an opportunity to significantly cut energy costs. Additionally, onsite storage enables businesses to leverage new revenue streams by participating in regional demand response programs.
3. Consumers and businesses alike have a role to play in creating a sustainable future
One word in particular cropped up in multiple CES conference sessions: purpose.
Recent surveys show that consumer preference for businesses that express purpose and engrain sustainability into their supply chains is at an all-time high. In fact, a 2019 study sponsored by Enel Green Power found that more than half of Americans would be willing to pay more for a sustainable product. This proves that purpose is more than just a buzzword — it’s a non-negotiable requirement to successfully doing business today and in the future.
As more consumers put pressure on businesses to adopt sustainable practices, businesses are answering the call. In a CES keynote session on purpose-driven businesses, Unilever CEO Alan Jope stated that Unilever would become irrelevant as a company without behaving responsibly, as consumers will “vote with their dollars.” He also noted that shareholders increasingly value purpose over short-term profitability, recognizing that sustainability is key to long-term success.
In the same session, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff shared that today’s CEOs must focus on building 100 percent sustainable supply chains, and said he expects in the future consumers will demand transparency into the ways in which products are made.
Enel X is proud to walk the sustainability talk through its emphasis on the circular economy: a paradigm in which raw materials usage is reduced to a minimum in favor of long-lasting renewable resources. The entire lifecycle of Enel X’s products and services — from material resourcing to waste disposal — is taken into consideration and looked at through the lens of opportunity for sustainable innovation.
One thing is for certain: the energy sector is in the midst of a fast-moving transformation. If businesses across sectors want to successfully ride the tide, they need to lean into consumers’ sustainability demands and be platforms for change.