Young plants fly off shelves as consumer brands go green

Buy a bottle of beer or shampoo and someone, somewhere, will plant a tree in your name – this is the last promise that consumer brands are making to attract eco-conscious shoppers.

Scottish craft brewer BrewDog launched a ‘buy one, get a tree’ initiative this month, committing to plant a tree in Madagascar for every multipack of beer purchased in 2021. Buyers scan QR codes on the packaging to alert BrewDog, and the company tells its planting partner, the Eden Project, how many trees to plant each month. He pledged to pay for the planting of at least 1 m over the year.

“We want to be a catalyst for change,” said James Watt, co-founder of BrewDog, which aims to phase out its direct emissions and those from the energy it uses by August 2023, and is working to reduce its emissions. supply chain, including through less water and turning to wind power. Customers “want to align themselves with companies that have the same values ​​as them,” he added.

BrewDog isn’t the only one looking for promotional planting offers. L’Oréal-owned beauty group Garnier pledged last year to plant a tree every time a bottle of certain skin and hair care products was sold at Asda, the British retailer. Other well-known names including Procter & Gamble, Hendrick’s gin, produced by William Grant & Sons, and watch brand Fossil have all recently had similar planting campaigns.

Under increasing pressure to demonstrate their green credentials to consumers and move towards net zero emission promises, corporate engagements are becoming increasingly creative and becoming marketing opportunities.

Tree planting, which not only resonates with buyers but can also generate the carbon credits that companies use to offset their emissions, is increasingly in favor.

But researchers warn that not all planting programs are created equal, and eye-catching projects can be a distraction for businesses. Planting to offset emissions is not just a case where a tree equals credit; systems have to go through lengthy monitoring processes, and even this system has been criticized for its lack of rigor.

“The top top priority is to put your carbon emissions on a trajectory consistent with what science says it needs to happen,” said Mike Berners-Lee, university professor and carbon emissions consultant who advises BrewDog, who does not use its schema to generate offsets. “You shouldn’t think about spending money on planting trees until you get it in order.”


Estimated net hectares of the world’s forests lost each year, according to the UN

Companies want to capitalize on consumers’ appetite for products marketed as sustainable: in the four years leading up to 2019, only 16% of consumer products in the United States were marketed for their sustainability, but they accounted for more than half growth in the sector. , according to a study by the NYU Stern Center for Sustainable Business.

Plantation promotions have extended beyond consumer goods and have been adopted by banks, such as TSB and Coutts, and Eurostar, the rail operator.

As reforestation becomes part of popular consciousness – the number of trees needing to be planted by companies as part of sustainability plans easily runs into the tens of millions – promotional planting is a natural next step.

Trees are easy to sell, said Mark Maslin, professor of climatology at University College London: “People get it.”

Compared to investing in some green technologies, such as carbon capture and storage, planting is also relatively inexpensive. The starting price for a tree was $ 0.10, according to the Eden Project, while other conservation groups Saving Nature, WeForest and One Tree Planted awarded it $ 1 per tree.

One Tree Planted, which has said business interest is increasing, plans to plant at least 17 million trees this year, up from 10 million in 2020 © Ben Hemmings / One Tree Planted

Many projects, including the latest plans by Brewdog and Garnier, aim to restore or protect the biodiversity of a territory. Others generate official carbon offsets, which some reject as a form of greenwashing.

The quality of projects in a fragmented market, made up of many planting programs, varies considerably. Companies that failed to do their due diligence risked making matters worse by funding programs that wasted some of the limited land left to plant, Berners-Lee said.

Experts stressed that projects should be well planned and managed over the long term, while invasive species and monocultures – which are often cheaper and easier to plant – should be avoided.

“The problem is finding the right tree in the right place,” said Keith Kirby, forest ecologist at the University of Oxford. Companies should ask themselves if their investments in plantation projects were “a marketing plan.” . . or a real desire to improve the environment which can also be used for marketing, ”he added.

Carole Ferguson, head of investor research at CDP, a nonprofit that runs an environmental disclosure system, said companies should be transparent about how the plantation fits into sustainability plans wider.

“You have to look at the picture as a whole,” she says. If companies did little to tackle emissions, a commitment to plant “becomes questionable.”

The large number of forest groups makes it difficult to quantify the precise number of trees planted. Nevertheless, last year, the World Economic Forum launched an initiative to grow, restore and conserve 1 t of trees by 2030.

The Eden Project, a popular choice for businesses, whose partners include BrewDog and Garnier, said it plans to plant at least 240 million trees this year, up from 196 million in 2020 and 66 million in 2019. About 80% of its funding comes from companies, the vast majority of which is for planting.

Planting trees in Mozambique for the Eden Project © Gary S. Chapman / Eden Reforestation Project

One Tree Planted, which has said business interest is increasing, plans to plant at least 17 million trees this year, up from 10 million in 2020.

However, the world still loses more forests each year than it gains. This net loss, of around 5 million hectares per year, according to The United Nations, companies should focus on removing deforestation from their supply chains before planting new trees, some researchers and charities have insisted.

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P&G fell fierce criticism of some investors on his role in deforestation to manufacture products such as toilet paper, even though he has pledged to finance tree restoration projects. The group worked with the Carrefour supermarket in 2018 to plant a tree for each of its products sold in stores in the United Arab Emirates.

“We are cutting down huge areas of rainforest that are not easy to reconstruct,” said Daniela Schmidt, professor of paleobiology at the University of Bristol. While responsible planting is valuable, she says, “don’t do it at the cost of not protecting the trees we already have.”

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