Image: Darling Magazine
In the weeks since the announcement that the U.S. would be pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement, there has been much debate about the impact this may have on the country’s and entire world’s push toward a more sustainable future. One of the biggest takeaways from the conversation has been that cities, states and especially businesses remain committed to moving forward in the fight against climate change.
Companies across a range of industries are prioritizing and focusing on policies and initiatives that will help lower greenhouse gas emissions. These actions not only benefit the planet but can also help the bottom line, as more consumers and investors call on companies to focus on sustainability. Within the cleaning products industry, we are seeing this convergence firsthand.
Where the cleaning products industry stands
One of the first steps toward making meaningful progress is to have a clear understanding of where our industry stands. The American Cleaning Institute (ACI) recently released its 2017 Sustainability Report for the cleaning products industry. This biennial report highlights the industry’s progress in addressing sustainability.
Since the first report was released in 2011, we have seen improvements in some areas. For example, since 2011 companies that formulate cleaning products have decreased greenhouse gas emission intensity by 23 percent, and our value chain had a 46 percent increase in renewable energy use.
At the same time, the 2017 report illustrates that there is still room for improvement. There was an uptick in greenhouse gas intensity in our value chain between 2011 and 2015, a lack of improvement in energy efficiency since 2011, and an increase in water intensity over the last two years.
While it can be difficult to see the data reveal that we’re not improving in all areas, it is encouraging to see that more companies are tracking and sharing sustainability metrics. Since we began our metrics-tracking program, there has been an 85 percent increase in companies who opt in to report their sustainability efforts to ACI – from 20 participating companies in 2009 to 37 in 2016. This is an encouraging sign of the commitment from many companies in the cleaning products industry to take responsibility for and action on sustainability.
While we know that individually many companies are making progress toward robust sustainability targets, the next step for industry at-large is to better harness our overall efforts and collectively focus on the areas in need of more attention. In 2015, ACI conducted its first-ever materiality assessment to map out the most critical issues as identified by internal and external industry stakeholders. The analysis found that the top five issues were related to materials use (sourcing and safety), disclosure and transparency, ecological impacts, water, and workplace health and safety.
The results of the materiality assessment and the results from the latest collection of metric’s data will lay a foundation for future work ACI and our member companies must embark on to truly make meaning progress toward sustainable development.
Opportunities to take part in meaningful progress
Now more than ever, it is up to companies to deliver on the commitments to sustainability that consumers and shareholders are demanding. We are calling on the cleaning products industry to reflect on the larger context in which they operate and consider the need for bolder collaborative action.
We do recognize that companies just starting out on their sustainability journeys may find these calls-to-action somewhat intimidating, on top of managing day-to-day operations. With this recognition in mind, and based on working with a wide range of companies within the cleaning product supply chain, here is how we suggest building your sustainability action plan:
- Get a handle on your direct impacts – identify your impacts and risks, carefully track your progress in mitigating them and be open about the results. If you do not already have sustainability goals, set them and develop a plan to achieve them.
- Consider what is happening beyond your direct walls – continually examine your supply chain to identify areas of risk outside your direct control.
- Join the larger conversation and drive collaboration – consider working toward greater impact on a given issue area by collaborating across your industry, or with other relevant industries.
By progressing through these phases, companies can make a meaningful difference in the push towards a more sustainable future. As it is clear, together is the only way we can effectively overcome many sustainability challenges.