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98 Percent of Sustainability Initiatives Fail. Here's How Not to Be Part of That Statistic. Most companies aren't as green as everyone thinks they are; now's the time to make key changes and see real results.

By Ariel Shapira Edited by Amanda Breen

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Most companies aren't nearly as green as everyone thinks they are.

As the dreaded pandemic reminds us nature — not humans— is the real boss of this planet, companies worldwide are attempting to make strides in sustainability. Young product manufacturers and startups live and breathe green as part of their company DNA. Older and legacy companies typically have to revisit policies and processes to determine where adjustments can be made. Whether they are making the changes purely for the benefit of the environment, for the sake of compliance or in direct response to public outcry, any and all efforts are certainly welcome and much needed.

The problem? It turns out nearly 98 percent of sustainability initiatives fail.

Related: 9 Easy Ways Companies Can Save Money By Going Green

A drop in the bucket

Corporations may mean well, but many are falling short with their environmental initiatives. Mattel recently made headlines for its PlayBack program, with the goal to recover and reuse materials in old toys for future Mattel products. While such a recycling initiative sounds like a noteworthy step toward sustainability coming from one of the largest toy manufacturers, it isn't. CO2 emissions come into play when consumers ship old toys back, in addition to the processing of materials that cannot be recycled. This can be seen as counterproductive.

There are many other companies that are also close, but still no cigar. Fast-fashion retailer H&M, for instance, created a garment recycling program, in which unwanted clothes are "sent to the nearest recycling plant, where they're sorted by hand." Nothing else is shared about what happens after the clothing has been sorted. Much like Mattel's initiative, the CO2 emissions that come out of this barely make this initiative worthwhile. If anything, it would be greener if H&M's clothes were made to last for years, instead of quickly falling apart.

Amazon is another company tackling sustainability in its own way. As part of the company's climate pledge, shipments will eventually be delivered on electric delivery vehicles, and operations will be powered with 100 percent renewable energy by 2025. The company still goes overboard with packaging for the smallest of items. According to a report by Oceana, Amazon is responsible for the use of "an estimated 465 million pounds of plastic packaging. As much as 22 million pounds of that may have ended up in rivers, lakes, or the ocean. That's roughly as much as dumping the contents of a plastic-filled delivery van into the water every 70 minutes."

Related: Is Sustainability the Future Of Modern Fashion Industry?

The best way to achieve real results in sustainability

Research by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency indicates that global carbon emissions from fossil fuels rose significantly since 1900. CO2 emissions have risen about 90 percent since 1970, with emissions from fossil fuel combustion and industrial processes contributing about 78 percent of the total greenhouse gas emissions increase from 1970 to 2011. Industrial manufacturers are particularly guilty of having a large carbon footprint, and real change calls for an upgrade in processes and technologies for increased efficiency.

One of the best ways for industrial manufacturers to go green is by starting with the core materials themselves. This is a move that has proven to be successful for the clean beauty and cosmetics industry. Other industries can easily follow suit by making their core products greener.

Industries like food and beverage manufacturing can look into using plastics that are actually recyclable by working with companies such as the Israel-based Polysack, a green-tech manufacturer of plastic film products for flexible packaging and high-shrink labels. Interestingly enough, a whopping 90 percent of plastic is not actually recycled globally, and even the developed world recycles less than half, according to GreenPeace. Polysack's plastic film is 100-percent recyclable and can fit various packaging applications. To follow up on the earlier examples with Mattel and H&M, it would be environmentally wiser for the brands to use greener materials in the production of their products, rather than taking baby steps in the direction of sustainability. It would make business sense, too.

Related: Is Sustainability Part of Your Business's DNA?

There are plenty of companies that are taking on environmental initiatives the right way. In addition to creating sustainable products with ethical sourcing, their manufacturing and production is environmentally responsible. Some of these brands include outdoor clothing company Patagonia, cleaning product company Seventh Generation and personal care company Dr. Bronners. In most cases, environmentally conscious companies are also working to completely alter the landscape of businesses' role and obligation in protecting the environment for a net-positive impact.

Now is the time for leaders to properly implement changes from the ground up in their efforts to go green. Anything less would be a day late and a dollar short.

Ariel Shapira

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor


Ariel Shapira is a father, entrepreneur, writer and speaker.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

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