By John Elkington
The scale of our resource addiction was brought home to me when I was in a Bavarian monastery recently, taking part in a stakeholder process organized by the German sportswear company PUMA. They took a lead recently in publishing their 2010 environmental profit & loss statement. This calculated that the cost their operations had imposed on the natural environment last year through their greenhouse gas emissions and water consumption was €94.4 million.
Such experiments in accounting and reporting are a tiny step towards the giant leap that mankind must now take towards sustainability. But small steps can be significant in several dimensions: think of the 12-step programs that organizations like Alcoholics Anonymous take alcoholics through on their way to recovery.
As we begin to wean ourselves off our environment-intensive dependencies, we expect to see what we have called a Phoenix Economy rising from the ashes. Those who are likely to best in the new order will be those with a high Future Quotient, combining an ability to sense where the future is headed and the adaptability required to succeed in very different market conditions.
So where do you see evidence of where all of this might take us? One example is the Greenpeace Detox campaign, designed to drive a range of toxic materials out of global supply chains. Exploiting the sensitivity – and competitiveness – of sportswear brands, Greenpeace is campaigning to “stop industry poisoning waterways around the world with hazardous, persistent and hormone-disrupting chemicals.” Launched in July, the campaign spotlights links between textile manufacturing facilities causing toxic water pollution in China, and many of the world's top clothing brands.
To declare an interest, I was part of the facilitation team drawn from SustainAbility, Forum for the Future and Volans that helped a number of major brands to work out how to respond to the Greenpeace campaign. Among those involved, listed alphabetically, were Adidas, the retailers C&A and H&M, Nike and Puma. The end-result is something that would have been almost unimaginable a year or two ago.
The brands – together with Li Ning from China – have combined forces to launch a Joint Roadmap to push towards the target of ‘Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals’ by 2020. Achieving the Roadmap will be a major challenge, not least because they often do not control the manufacturing plants that make their products. More problematic still will be the fact that so many of these facilities are in China, which is sensitive to external pressures on environmental issues.
The brands plan to verify that nine classes of hazardous or persistent chemicals are not used in their supply chains—and aim to build an inventory of all chemicals used in apparel manufacturing by the end of 2012. Other steps include disclosing the results of all pilots and studies undertaken as part of this commitment, and reporting regularly and publicly on progress, quarterly in 2012 and annually from 2013 to 2020. Given the potential impact of this initiative, many business people will be monitoring developments very carefully.
About John Elkington
John Elkington is Executive Chairman of Volans, co-founder of SustainAbility, blogs at http://www.johnelkington.com, tweets at @volansjohn and is a member of The Guardian’s Sustainable Business Advisory Panel.
Readers: What companies would you like to see in detox? Share your thoughts on Talkback!