Pointing fingers won’t save this planet

Dr. Seuss wrote it best in his children’s book, The Lorax: “Unless”.

Source: @teamkids on X.

Consider how the Lorax was first published in 1971. Now, 52 years down the line, the same issue of climate change persists, more urgently than ever.

Over the past year, a surge of companies, including Unilever, Uber, and Facebook, have announced their commitment to becoming “net-zero” or “carbon neutral” within the next three decades. Even major players in the oil industry, such as BP and Shell, claim to be on board.

Nike’s Move To Zero campaign, for one, declares ambitious zero-carbon and zero-waste targets. They proudly showcased the ‘Space Hippie’ series with its record-low carbon footprint. However, the underlying issue persists—mass production on this scale is inherently unsustainable. While products like recycled sneakers highlight individual sustainability efforts, they fall short of catalysing meaningful systemic change, primarily serving to drive continued consumerism.

Source: Nike.com

Who should bear the burden?

So you bring your own waterbottle to work. You reuse containers. You sip on metal straws for your daily bubble tea treat. At some point you might have wondered, “But am I actually making a difference?”

It’s hard to ignore that the predominant burden of sustainability is heaped onto consumers, while corporations evade accountability for their ecological footprint by setting vague, long-term net-zero pledges. From climate change to child labour, the narrative increasingly pushes individuals to bear the brunt of solving global challenges, a paradigm that stifles true change.

Media discourse on sustainability often focuses on consumer actions, urging recycling, composting, and reusing. However, much of the issue lies in the relentless production of items by corporations, shifting the environmental impact and responsibility for proper disposal onto consumers. This misalignment must be rectified, putting the onus on corporations to rethink their production practices.

Because sure, corporate pledges abound, boasting ambitious targets for recycled materials and reduced carbon footprints by distant future dates. Yet, a lack of regulatory oversight renders these promises toothless.

Currently, in the U.S. and various other nations, there lacks a uniform standard for climate disclosure. Despite the voluntary efforts of many companies, some may be strategically framing their emission reports to present a more favourable image. A case in point is the oil and gas sector, where major players such as Shell, Chevron, Exxon, and even Saudi Aramco exclusively disclose Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions in their reports.

Sure, a company may have clean methods of extracting oil, but the critical factor revolves around the combustion of these resources as fuel, resulting in significant
carbon emissions categorised as Scope 3 emissions… something frequently overlooked in reporting.

The absence of a central authority to monitor and enforce these commitments allows corporations to make grand gestures without being held accountable for real change.

Large corporations bear a significant share of responsibility for environmental harm, necessitating more robust obligations and stringent enforcement of sustainable practices. While consumers play a role, their inherent limitations make a substantial impact nearly impossible on an individual or even collective scale when compared to the ecological footprint of large businesses.

Addressing the climate crisis requires fundamental systemic changes, not just individual sacrifices. Reaching zero emissions demands a profound structural shift, akin to a new industrial revolution, redefining how corporations operate and the impact they have on the planet.

An invitation to self-reflect

At the same time, placing the entire onus on corporations wouldn’t be too right, either. Corporations are profit-driven entities, and consumers seek the best value for their money.

The dilemma intensifies when considering the economic dynamics. The market is dictated by supply and demand. Not just supply, not just demand. Unsustainable demands are met with unsustainable solutions. Unless environmental impact becomes a significant factor in defining the “best product,” both parties remain indifferent to the problem.

Furthermore, sustainable practices are often perceived as more expensive, time-consuming, and less convenient. Corporations, especially those streamlined for profit, find sustainable practices incompatible with their financial goals. To make matters worse, sustainability, though crucial, tends to be viewed as too inconvenient for the general masses to prioritise, making it challenging for sustainable corporations to reach and influence a broader audience.

The assumption that corporations should singularly bear the responsibility for transitioning to sustainable practices overlooks the uncomfortable truth that consumer behaviours also play a role in unsustainable practices. At the individual level, consumers’ personal interest in sustainability is vital so as to drive businesses and policies to make a change.

Pinning the onus on one party alone would be impractical. Consumer demands often drive corporate practices, yet without transparency about environmental impacts and viable alternatives, consumers are left unable to make informed choices. Both corporations and consumers must undergo a paradigm shift for any substantial change to occur.

Navigating the climate crisis demands coordinated action. Corporations are not to solely blame, however they are arguably the best and most effective target for regulation and change. Individuals can make moral choices not to buy these products, but from a macro-economic standpoint we have to consider things such as the market and collective actions. That’s why the primary responsibility for initiating change rests squarely on the shoulders of corporations and government policies. Corporations must be held accountable for their practices, and governments must enact policies that drive systemic change.

Here at ABrandADay, with every rebranding project and audit taken on, we operate on the belief that it is of utmost importance to include ESG considerations when it comes to a brand’s processes. We like to challenge ourselves: how can ESG be incorporated into a business to make a difference?

Part of the strategy we developed for Thong Siek Global (TSG), who created the iconic DoDo fishballs, included looking into forging a sustainable production chain. Our rebranding journey with TSG saw the business willingly joining the green movement as a responsible market leader. As part of their ESG commitment, TSG is exploring responsible and sustainable packaging, compostable materials and is even replacing their diesel usage with liquefied petroleum for clean burning.

ESG is not an overnight band-aid solution to the climate crisis, and the time for meaningful, impactful sustainability is now. The onus is on everyone involved — corporations, consumers, and governments—to take responsibility and act.

It’s not us against the world. It’s us for the world.

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