Ethical Consumption Requires Innovation and Innovation Has a New Partner

Ethical consumption is a winding, battered, and confusing road. The good news is that through eco-labels, certification programs, and third party inspections the road’s credible leaders and products are able to stand out. And just who is the newest player in town, you ask? Industry Innovators, developed by Climate Counts, is a voluntary initiative for companies to transparently report on their sustainability efforts. Reviewing the “green rush” of organizations trying to create the ultimate product, label, or validation that something is sustainable, have made me quite a skeptic of programs set-up to “help” the consumer. Yet, what I unearthed about the Industry Innovators initiative left me feeling quite pleased and a little more hopeful about corporate commitments to sustainability, and specifically climate change.

Climate Counts, founded with support from Stonyfield Farms in 2007, was created to provide digestible, measurable, and accessible information on corporate climate action. Their new initiative, Industry Innovators, or i2, specifically highlights innovative action by companies working on addressing sustainability. By utilizing publicly available data, the i2 initiative increases corporate transparency. By complementing the transparency with publicly reporting the scores of participating companies, the i2 initiative also increases corporate accountability. Two things, transparency and accountability, that are becoming increasingly important for ethical consumption to move beyond corporate marketing claims.

Outside of the positive reinforcement for more sustainable consumer and company behavior, I greatly respect the Industry Innovator’s development. They invited the top six performing companies, no strangers to ethical consumption, to participate in the pilot program. The key is that they invited corporate leaders, and more importantly, innovators, to help design and guide the program. By doing so, they were able to create a scorecard and guidelines that are rigorous yet attainable. We often forget the value of cross-sector collaboration when creating guidelines and standards. By incorporating the desire of a non-profit to encourage action-driven change toward sustainability, and the knowledge of leading companies who have blazed the trail, the i2 program offers a credible scorecard for us, the end consumer.

I encourage you to check out what the industry leaders have already accomplished, including REI, Shaklee, Clif Bar, Ben & Jerry’s, Amtrak and Timberland on the i2 website! With the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the volcanic eruptions in Iceland, and the stalled climate change talks, it is nice to learn about positive actions companies are taking to reduce their impact, and i2 offers exactly that opportunity.

Now for companies that want to see how they measure up, I recommend visiting the i2 website for a few minutes. Not to size up the competition (although in this field, please go right ahead), but instead to fill out a quick self-assessment. It literally takes only a few minutes, and then your results are fact-checked, if you will, and made public. Afraid of a bad score? Then why not use this tool as an opportunity to demonstrate the active steps your company is taking toward becoming a true Industry Innovator.

Consider what a few companies on JustMeans may have or will be able to accomplish…

Is the Campbell’s Soup Company really “nourishing people’s lives?” How many tons of carbon has it abated with its improved packaging? What is their Sustainability Leadership Team doing about sustainable agriculture?

As a self defined “virtual manufacturer” can Cisco show the world that it is a leader in supply chain management and help bring our culture into a more energy efficient 21st century society?

We all know that Intel is a cutting edge technology company. But after their 1.3 billion multi-year commitment to renewable energy in 2008 are they A) Still in a position to compete with the already competitive Electronics Sector? B) Continuing their commitment to renewable energy and ready to wear the i2 badge?

Is DuPont pressuring its massive supply-chain spanning six sectors (Agriculture & Nutrition, Coatings & Color Technologies, Electronic & Communication Technologies, Performance Materials, Safety & Protection and Pharmaceuticals) into being more sustainable? Are they on track to meet their aggressive energy reduction and fleet efficiency goals by 2015?

Only time will tell, but I plan on following the journey of Climate Counts’ Industry Innovators to see who will continue to set the pace. What companies are genuine Industry Innovators and will ultimately define what corporate climate responsibility truly is for those passionate about ethical consumption?

A special thanks to Mark Harrison and the team at Industry Innovators and Climate Counts for their ongoing work in promoting and challenging corporate climate action.

Photo Credit: Industry Innovators.