Sustainability/Opinion/

Skip the Earth Day gimmicks: here’s what companies should do instead

Earth Day is about supporting climate action — not selling stuff. If your company cares about sustainability, commit to something concrete.

Credit: Hayden Wood, cofounder of Bulb.

By Hayden Wood

If my inbox is anything to go by, a lot of companies this year are using Earth Day as a brilliant marketing opportunity. Emails range from brands asking me to ‘celebrate Earth Day!’; to offering ‘20% off everything!’ and urging me to ‘shop our special collection!’.

Earth Day — which marks the birth of the modern environmental movement on 22 April every year — gets people talking about the climate crisis, and that’s a good thing. But this year, my hope is more brands focus less on using it to sell more stuff and more on taking action. 

The stakes couldn’t be higher. We’re running out of time to keep global warming to below 1.5°C — the critical level of heating to avoid the worst impacts of the climate crisis. In November, the UK will host COP26, the United Nations summit on climate change. World leaders will (hopefully) come together to agree urgent action. As startups, we should be doing the same.

Using tech to be greener

Consumers are demanding brands offer greener products. Bulb’s own research shows that 51% of British people are committed to living more sustainably after the pandemic. Meanwhile, European tech companies that are rising to this challenge are seeing growth.

Europe has at least 800 climate tech startups. European tech companies are also leading the way when it comes to helping consumers make greener choices — whether that’s by offering recycled debit cards or launching sustainable investing apps. 

Food-sharing startup OLIO is using technology to tackle food waste, meal kit company allplants is helping people to eat more plant-based food and what3words’ location technology is helping keep neighbourhoods tidy and reduce emissions from deliveries.

Better together

These startups are each tackling important problems on their own — but together, we can get things done even faster. 

There are already some brilliant examples of this. The companies mentioned previously are all part of our Tech Zero taskforce — a group of 15 fast-growing UK tech companies, working together to accelerate progress to net zero.

Leaders for Climate Action brings together entrepreneurs who’ve made personal and business commitments to net zero, and for Earth Day they have launched a campaign with over 200 tech businesses to drive conversation around climate action. Bulb is a member of the B Corp Climate Collective, a group of over 500 B Corps who’ve committed to net zero by 2030. And thousands of businesses have joined the UN’s Race to Zero, the largest ever alliance committed to net zero carbon by 2050 at the latest.

It’s easy to be sceptical about groups and targets. But by working together, we’ll make faster progress. Plus, it makes good business sense — the transition to net zero is a huge opportunity for growth. Collaborating and sharing knowledge with other European tech businesses can help us all scale faster. 

Carbon what-set?

Right now there’s a lot of talk about COP26, carbon offsets and net zero, but most people don’t understand what this stuff actually means. As a business, it’s easy to get stuck before you’ve even started. I’ve found talking to other business leaders helpful; sharing what’s worked and what hasn’t and looking for ways to innovate together. 

Meanwhile, tech is making it easier and cheaper for businesses to reduce their carbon footprint. New APIs are helping companies measure their emissions; smart meters are helping businesses manage and reduce their energy use; and it’s simpler than ever to switch to a green web hosting provider. 

If you don’t know where to begin, there are generally three steps to net zero:

1. Measure your baseline emissions. There are a number of consultancies like Carbon Trust, EcoAct or BeZero that can help you do this. 

2. Make a plan to reduce your emissions in line with limiting global warming to 1.5°C (also known as setting a ‘science-based target’). The consultancy who measured your emissions can help you set some targets, but you can also take action right now with simple things like reducing meat in your company canteen, taking advantage of government grants for electric transport and improving energy efficiency in your buildings.

3. Remove — or offset — the emissions you can’t reduce. There will always be some ‘residual’ emissions that can’t be reduced. You can invest in carbon removal projects (like forestation) with partners like Sylvera and ClimateCare. Not all offsetting schemes are created equal, so do your research and look out for certifications like Gold Standard.

Earth Day is a good thing: it keeps people talking about the climate crisis. But this year, swerve the marketing gimmicks. Don’t offer customers an Earth Day discount to buy more stuff (unless it helps them live more sustainably or reduce waste in other parts of their life, of course).

Use Earth Day to commit to something concrete: make a net zero plan, review your existing commitments, or make them for the first time. If you’re unsure where to start, speak to other startups and ask for help.

Hayden Wood is the cofounder and CEO of Bulb.

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Melonfarmer
Melonfarmer

I struggle with “Happy Earth Day”: “unhappy Earth” would be more appropriate. It’s like Valentine’s Day in that it lets folks who ignore it 364 days a year off the hook.

Stop buying junk you don’t need, flying a lot, and (perhaps controversially) having lots of kids doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.

The recently announced Mastercard & Klarna partnerships with Doconomy for carbon calculator apis will wipe the floor with most interchange fee-related “green” apps.

I plant a tree a day with Tree App. It’s a start, but if everyone does a little, a little will happen.