Q&A / FASHION

”At Haglöfs we are determined to at least cheat in the best way possible”

ELAINE GARDINER
On why claiming your business being ”climate-neutral” is a problem
May 31, 2021

Elaine Gardiner works as head of sustainability at Haglöfs. The Swedish outdoor company just announced becoming ”climate-neutral”, but were completely open about the fact that they’ve cheated on the way reaching there.

Why?

— The urgency of the climate crisis is such that we need to pull every lever we have available to us and do so quickly, Gardiner states. So, we decided to do so and committed to an ambitious climate strategy which consists of 3 parts:

* Reduce our emissions 50% over the next 10 years
* Reach net-zero by 2030 — 20 years earlier than the IPCC recommendation
* Take responsibility for the remaining emissions along the way by compensating for them with carbon offsetting, making us climate-neutral already in 2021

— It’s this last part that we refer to as cheating. Even though ”climate neutral” is the right term, it doesn’t mean we don’t have any CO2 emissions. It means that we are using offsetting to compensate for our emissions by supporting projects that will hopefully avoid or reduce emissions faster than us. And we think that feels a bit like cheating. But since it’s the best option for the climate right now, we are determined to at least cheat in the best way possible: with high-quality offsets and ambitious plans to continue the hard work of reducing our own emissions. 

What would you say is the main issue with companies claiming to be climate-neutral? And how big is the problem?

— The main issue is that it is often used to imply that somehow an end goal has been achieved and no more work is needed to be done when in reality it should be viewed as only a stepping stone in a much more challenging journey to reduce the emissions within a company’s control.  The terminology also gives the impression that there are somehow no more emissions going into the atmosphere when this is not the case, while good projects are being supported through offsetting which helps to avoid, reduce, or remove emissions, the company is still responsible for significant emissions going into the atmosphere, says Gardiner, adding,  

— The risk therefore is that consumers or companies are content with becoming climate neutral and avoid or take longer to reduce their own emissions. 

What’s your best advice to other companies to handle this issue in the company’s communication, in order to avoid greenwashing?

— To avoid greenwashing, transparency is key. Keep it simple and to the point. Do not exaggerate. Communicate about successes but also about challenges.  Avoid language such as ”sustainable” and ”good for the planet”, which generally cannot be substantiated and instead stick to the facts backing everything up with proof. 

What will you do onwards in order to reduce your emissions? And what do you hope that your colleagues and competitors will do?

— Our plan to reduce our carbon footprint by 50% includes:

* Increasing the use of lower impact materials
* Manufacturing using more efficient factories or processes
* Increasing the use of renewable energy in our own operations and more importantly in our supply chain
* Ensuring we continue to make high-quality products that last, and provide the support to ensure it stays in use for as long as possible

— A really cool project coming up this fall is our second hand project — Haglöfs Restored — which aims at making the most of what we already have, and part of our work to keep products in use for much longer.

— Since the largest part of our footprint lies in our supply chain we are heavily dependent on cooperating with suppliers and factories to enable us to make the reductions needed. Cooperation with our competitors will be key here since within the outdoor industry our supply chains are often shared. By working together we can more effectively support our suppliers during the transition. This is something that the outdoor industry has been especially effective at doing over the years with competitors working side by side on sustainability matters knowing that most of the issues we faced cannot be solved by a single brand on their own, says Gardiner.  

Lastly, do you have any company that you consider handling this subject in a good way?

— We have great respect for those companies such as Interface who paved the way by working on these topics long before they became headline news. It is also very encouraging to see some of the largest companies in the world pushing the needle. For example, Microsoft is working against very ambitious targets and are proactively using their size and resources to develop the market for carbon removal technologies, while Unilever recently managed to get shareholder approval for their climate transition action plan allowing them to better integrate climate action into their business strategy, Gardiner concludes.

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