Has COP26 changed anything for the consumer goods industry?

We hear from Enviral, Jude's Ice Cream, Sweep, Sipsmith, Zevero, Circular Spaces and My Emissions.

The two-week whirlwind of COP26 saw progress across key areas like deforestation and methane. Conversations around regulation, science based targets, national accountability and representation were front and centre, with divided opinions on whether COP26 was a success, and importantly what needs to happen next. At Following the Footprints, we focus on how consumer goods brands can take action to reduce their environmental impact. After COP26, we were left with a clear question - where can consumer goods brands go from here? So, we decided to ask people we admire what they thought. We sent out the following question:

‘Has COP26 changed anything for the consumer goods industry?’

Then, we collected their responses…

Joss Ford - Founder of Enviral

Yes, but only in showing that there’s a competitive advantage to be had for consumer goods to put purpose into their communications. It’s time for real accountability - with annual and interim reports, created and reported with honesty by actual experts to benchmark their businesses footprint. Without a benchmark you can’t improve, and without a report you can’t put social and environmental communications at the heart of the brands marketing message.

Chow Mezger - Managing Director of Jude’s Ice Cream

Whatever agreements come out of COP26 in Glasgow we hope and expect that the last few weeks will be a catalyst for change in the consumer goods industry. Whilst the spotlight has been on caring for our beautiful planet consumers awareness of these issues will have increased, which will in turn affect their expectations of brands and buying habits. We’re expecting to hear more from Brands accelerating their sustainability plans, and putting in place more ambitious targets.

Rachel Delacour - CEO and Co-Founder of Sweep

COP26 has shown that the business world needs to start addressing the climate crisis with action. Investors are asking portfolio companies to deal with their emissions, customers keep calling for more sustainable products, and governments are working on corporate climate disclosure rules. Doing nothing is no longer possible as we are not on track to meet 1.5C. Now’s the time to take responsibility for our carbon footprint, anticipate climate risks and seize sustainable growth opportunities. 

Companies should focus on taking action to reduce their impact on the planet. It starts with having the humility to learn and do things right. Most leaders have no clue about emissions factors and reporting standards, but we need to educate ourselves to be a part of the change. Join communities (like Following the Footprints) and connect with experts that will guide and hold you accountable. We must work together to create a business world that’s better for our planet.

Ellie Stirk - Sustainability Lead at Sipsmith

For us at Sipsmith, I have found it an opportunity to really drive engagement and education within the team, with COP26 being so prevalent externally. 

How I did this was through harnessing our internal ‘Ministry of Sustainability (MoS)’ to deliver team presentations on what COP26 is and why it’s important, inviting external speakers to chat to the team on various aspects of sustainability e.g. Direct Air Capture and Removal and Climate Justice, as well as hosting a post COP26 Reflections B Corp panel this week in collaboration with Mindful Chef. We have also taken part in a pilot project with Good Shipping to inset the emissions from our international shipping made in 2021. Aligning this with COP26 showed the business that action can be taken immediately to decarbonise our supply chain which has been really exciting.

COP26 has been a great opportunity to push sustainability to the top of people’s thinking, which will help us in the long run to making a cut to our carbon emissions. Over the next 12 months, we are really focusing on integrating our sustainability roadmap across the business, so it isn’t one person's responsibility, and providing the team with the knowledge they need to make more sustainable decisions. One thing I might try and look at with our internal MoS team is the idea of gamifying employee carbon emissions to try and incentivise employees to personally reduce their emissions. This could be an interesting trend for next year, and it could be a way to keep it at the top of team agendas.

George Wade - Co-founder of Zevero 

I would say that COP26 hasn’t directly changed anything, but it will have a major impact on consumer goods. Consumers will only demand more and government action will only increase.

I think brands should be focusing on two things. One is a no brainer, reduce the carbon emissions of their products. Two is transparency. How they are reporting their carbon emissions and how they’re offsetting their products. I love to see so many brands take action but I worry about misleading information and greenwashing.

Anjali Agarwal -  Co-lead Climate at Sigma Squared, Founder of Circular Spaces

There is too much focus on 'clean' production rather than reducing the need for consumption. As long as there is pressure for more, it will always be unsustainable. We need to problematize demand creation through marketing, decreased product end of life, and the idea of 'cheap.'

It requires a paradigm shift and real solutions employed by big companies that are not greenwashing solutions by sticking incomplete and partial SDG goals in their marketing campaigns. Companies can shift their focus on creating long-lasting, serviceable and subscription-based products that allow regenerative income and sustain long-term environmental goals.

Matthew Isaacs - Co-Founder of My Emissions

The narrative and focus on climate change has definitely intensified during and because of COP26. We saw supermarkets committing to reducing their impact, calls for standardisation, introduction of requirements to have credible net zero plans, and even carbon labels on the COP26 menu.

The writing is on the wall that we're moving towards better standardisation and expectation to have and communicate environmental performance. So I think brands should now start thinking about measuring their impact, finding ways to improve their sustainability, and incorporate this into their branding.

Our summary: better reporting, greater transparency, and an effort to ensure that climate change remains as a crucial part of every conversation - at home and at work. Brands need to accelerate their plans, question the role their products are having in our climate crisis, and work together and with other key partners to take their impact seriously.

Have your own thoughts? Let us know! Either comment them below, or email us at info@followingthefootprints.com, we’d love to hear your answers to our question.