Brands are contributing to a carbon-positive future.
Carbon positive practices are becoming more than just a trust-building exercise to earn consumer loyalty—they are evolving into a modern business imperative.
“More and more, we’re seeing brands and retailers really focus on sustainability as a business priority,” Lizzie Willett, retail consultant at BJSS, tells Wunderman Thompson Intelligence. As we noted in our 2018 report The New Sustainability: Regeneration, consumers are calling on brands to move beyond maintaining the status quo to actively contribute to the environment. In response, many are making strides to become carbon positive—meaning they generate more energy than they consume. From haute couture to mass market, personal care to travel, brands across categories are taking up the mantle of carbon positivity.
“We are entering a new decade of corporate accountability,” Gucci CEO Marco Bizzarri wrote in a November 2019 open letter inviting CEOs to join his Carbon Neutral Challenge. “As businesses, we all have a responsibility to meet the reality of our global climate and biodiversity crises head on.” Prada underscored this point when they signed a sustainability-linked loan in November 2019, with their interest payments on the loan determined by the company’s ability to hit key sustainability targets in their operations and products.
In November 2019, Dame earned the UK’s first Carbon Neutral Plus Product certification from Carbon Footprint, simultaneously making it the world’s first climate-positive period brand. “As a business, we have a huge responsibility to do everything we can to help tackle our climate emergency and give consumers better options,” Dame cofounder Celia Pool told the Evening Standard. “To us, becoming climate positive wasn’t a choice, but an absolute necessity.”
In September 2019, Ikea announced plans to generate an excess of renewable energy for its stores. The homeware company also plans to make solar panels available for sale in all of its markets by 2025, helping consumers achieve carbon neutrality on their own. “Being climate smart is not an added cost,” Jesper Brodin, chief executive of Ikea’s holding company Ingka, told Reuters. “It’s actually smart business and what the business model of the future will look like.”
Unilever has pledged to be carbon positive by 2030, while H&M is working towards its goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2040.
Alongside brands, urban and industrial architects are working to build a climate-positive future. Snøhetta has unveiled a slate of buildings that will produce more energy than they consume, including the Svart hotel, which opens in 2021, and Powerhouse Brattørkaia, which became the world’s northernmost energy-positive building when it opened in September 2019.
Elsewhere in Norway, Haptic design firm and the Nordic Office of Architecture broke ground on the world’s first energy-positive city in late 2019, called Oslo Airport City. The city, which will take 30 years to build, will be powered entirely by renewable energy and will also function as a local source for clean power, selling all surplus energy to neighboring buildings and communities. The city will also serve as a testing ground for urban initiatives to reduce carbon emissions, piloting innovative green technologies including driverless electric cars, automatic lighting for streets and buildings, and smart-tech solutions for waste and security management.
As these pioneering initiatives prove, brand success of the future will increasingly lie in yoking business models to climate protection practices and environmental rehabilitation.