The shopping-as-unusual movement we’re encouraging and trying to facilitate at Arbor ultimately depends on the kickoff and the development of more businesses-as-unusual.

We need companies to become more sustainable.

More organizations putting their resources where their mouth is and truly changing the way they do business. 

The kind able to empower the bioregions and the communities where their core activities have - despite all mitigation efforts - a significant impact.

The kind that does not focus on developing random corporate social responsibility initiatives disconnected from a real sustainability strategy. But ‌where organizational changes at all levels are bravely designed, implemented, and monitored. 

Because we need companies not to just have a positive impact. But to have the meaningful and on-time impact Brad Zarnett so tirelessly repeats across his pieces and provocative LinkedIn comments. 

That’s what this short piece is all about.

Inviting you to answer 3 questions before deciding whether a company deserves your money.

Or your vote. However you prefer to put it.

Always Focus on the Core Business

We could go on forever if we were to analyze all the good an organization could do. 

In fact, some organizations purposefully do it. Long articles, many fun, stimulus-intensive videos looking to grab our attention to all the good they are doing.

But here’s what truly matters: what is their industry? What is their core business and what are they doing about it?

This is where the gist lays.

Let’s take any organization selling SaaS. They most likely have developers working from laptops and using larger screens and external keyboards and mouses.

What suppliers do they work with? Are they aware of their environmental/social practices? What do they do when a laptop or some other piece of technology stops working? Is it thrown away to waste or is it repaired? How about cloud hosting? Do their partners have servers powered by renewable energy? 

Of course recycling is important.

And so is providing reusable coffee mugs alongside fair-trade certified coffee from a zero-waste brewer.

Implementing some remote work scheme or encouraging plant-based meals and carpooling too. But ultimately, and amid so much content calling our attention, we need to look at the core business.

An ice cream using cardboard containers? That’s nice. But what flavors do they sell and how were they grown and sourced?

There’s some company donating to NGOs. Great. But have they measured the impact of their activities and tried to mitigate it and offset what they couldn’t change?

The key takeaway is: there are countless good things organizations can do.

But in their core, that’s where change hurts more. Because it means abdicating a lot and often investing a good amount of time and resources preparing and implementing the change. 

But that’s where changes are also more significant and impactful.

So keep in mind the core business.

Look for the Sustainability Report and Analyze It

sustainability business shopping

You and I both know genuine change - the kind that means moving around resources and a good amount of planning - is not something that comes out of the blue. 

After all, we don’t take the most important decisions of our lives without a careful analysis, do we?

I’m sure at some point we all weigh the pros and the cons. We do some math, we imagine different scenarios and what success would represent in each of them.

Should we not expect the same from organizations? 

I think we should - if we are really talking about important decisions and meaningful changes.

And where better than a sustainability report could organizations document their current context, the opportunities and strengths within their industry, and their own social and environmental impact? 

Here’s where we’ll be able to find how they are becoming more ecological and socially responsible. What activities and programs they have implemented, what success with mean in each of them, and how to measure it.

Larger companies will have sustainability reports using standard frameworks such as the B Corp Certification, the GRI, the IR or the Natural Capital.

But this can be too much to ask smaller businesses for. They have fewer resources - at all levels - and they can't have people dedicated full-time to this reporting work. 

However, if they can show they’ve identified and (up to some extent) measured their impacts and that they are designing strategies to mitigate them, that’s already a great win.

Don’t Be Too Harsh With Flaws Transparently Communicated

sustainable brand business shopping

As consumers and citizens, we can and we should be demanding with businesses and governments on these sustainability issues.

But we also need to remember Rome a day wasn't enough to build Rome.

And keep in mind that these changes businesses need to work on - especially the meaningful and incremental kind of change we’ve been discussing - takes time.

That’s why we might even applaud the brands that are having enough courage to say “we know we’re doing this the wrong way but we’re working on it and this is what we're going to do and why".

That’s transparency and vulnerability right there.

And isn’t it worth rewarding these organizations for not pretending to be “green” before having implemented significant changes?

Isn't it better than those already communicating they are doing something when this something isn't very significant?

Joe Young from 8 Shields says most of the tribal leaders he has interviewed over 2 decades speak of how their tribe members learn from a young age to think 200 years ahead.

They consider how their actions can affect the following 3 generations to come. Perhaps we too should demand such longer-term plans from organizations?

Maybe we should.

Photos by Brooke Lark, William Iven on Unsplash