Altruistiq has generated emissions numbers across >50m tCO2e of business. So, as we pass this milestone, I pulled together a few highlights which I shared at Sustainable Foods London this week.
The situation today:
Most companies we work with have over >100k unique ingredient/material purchases, which go into creating their products. To quantify the environmental impact of these items, they typically use <5K unique Emissions Factors, available via third party consultants, service providers, and databases (prior to working with us). This is a thin layer of mostly secondary data.
This unstable, inverted data pyramid means that companies have no ability to demonstrate progress, no security against claims of greenwashing, and no control over what their numbers actually look like. This is going to feel a lot worse as companies migrate from needing primarily spend based to primarily activity/weight based data for FLAG.
Vendors are selling two brands of Kool-Aid: 1) no touch solutions that leverage data science and satellite data to generate numbers without the need to interact with suppliers; 2) ‘one platform to rule them all’ approaches that promise to have every relevant supplier on them.
Most companies find the second approach appealing (understandable). However, their GHG Inventories are the contribution of multiple industries (agriculture, packaging, logistics, retail) all of which are hearing the same promises from different vendors.
Hoping for a single solution means reconciling with low response rates (as 100 ‘single solutions’ go out to market), a lack of assurance (as everyone hopes to get all of this for free), and no ability to drive change (as companies lose the data connection with their suppliers).
There’s light at the end of the tunnel:
The good news though is that this is going to get better (and the disingenuous pitches will fade). Three changes happening:
Standards are becoming stronger, more holistic, and more even;
Tech is becoming interoperable (so every supplier’s platform will be able to speak to yours, even if won’t actually be the same as yours);
Regulation and (industry self-regulation) is going to force most companies to start putting money on the table to drive change (which boosts supplier appetite to engage).
With that, I’m feeling reasonably optimistic - and looking forward to the next 100m tcO2e for Altruistiq.
Industry Insight: Does sustainability = higher prices for consumers?
Let’s not kid ourselves. There are basically three ways to cover sustainability costs:
Efficiency gains (i.e., do more with less).
Lower margins (i.e., businesses absorb the cost).
Raise prices (i.e., pass on the cost to consumers).
The first is reliable but won’t get us all the way. The second and third will need to be achieved either by some form of industry self regulation or regulatory intervention (e.g., taxes, standards).
We’re talking about owning environmental externalities that have been historically underpriced. If it was free, this would never have been a problem in the first place.
Lessons Learned - Abel & Cole’s Plastic Packaging Redemption - A Conversation with Hugo Lynch, Sustainability Lead
A section where we interview leading sustainability professionals, to share their advice on planning and executing initiatives. Today we sit down with Hugo Lynch, Sustainability Lead at Abel & Cole.
Team Size: 3. The Abel & Cole sustainability team is a killer trifactor consisting of Hugo Lynch, responsible for the strategy, focusing on Scope 1&2 and Scope 3 related projects (e.g., food waste, packaging), Ed Ayton, ethical sourcing manager responsible for supplier relationships and policy and Ania Gancaz, the Food Guardian, upholding their mission to donate 40% of food waste and redirect the rest away from landfill.
Team set up: Independent function. This set up works well for the team as it allows them to go all-in on sustainability initiatives (rather than working towards other operational KPIs). The team previously sat within Marketing but found that the needs of sustainability had to stretch outside the messaging topic to involve operations, technical teams, sourcing and buyers. B Corp helped make the business case for this organisational shift.
Packaging often receives disproportionate attention despite its minor impact on carbon inventories. Nonetheless, showcasing sustainability values through packaging is a smart move. Abel & Cole's Club Zero Refillable Milk initiative reimagines plastic as the sustainable and cost-effective refill option, defying the conventional anti-plastic sentiment.
The Impact: Launched in October 2023, the initiative boasts a 75% return rate, lots of feedback, and enthusiastic customer engagement.
Why plastic bottles? After extensive modelling, 3 years, 7 teams of experts and 3 failed experiments, plastic came out on top over glass as the best refill option. Reusing plastic bottles just x4 times slashes the carbon footprint of single use bottles by 50%, whilst glass needs x15 returns for similar savings (the reason being it is x7 heavier than plastic, therefore adding significant weight to the delivery vehicles).
Why milk? Because it's a top-seller so can have the biggest impact as a product switch. Customers were eager for a milk round, and Abel & Cole had the infrastructure for returns, making it a smart choice.
Hugo’s advice for other practitioners:
Launch at scale: incremental introductions don’t make sense. It causes more confusion for the consumer if they can only return certain products (e.g., full fat and semi-skinned milk) and not others (e.g., guernsey milk). This tends to result in disengagement.
Be realistic: Don’t shoot yourself in the foot by banking on the ‘best case scenario’. Aim for mid case scenarios e.g., Abel & Cole knew they could hit their carbon targets after 4 returns which felt reasonable. If you set ambitious targets and struggle to meet them, it is harder to make the business case for continued investment.
Crystal clear messaging on the packaging: Let’s not kid ourselves that all customers actually read our emails. Packaging instructions matter, ensure there is clear messaging to let customers know how to return the bottle.
Maintain a cadence: Regular cross-team catch ups across all relevant teams (e.g., procurement, customer service, marketing, operations) to ensure everyone is aligned.
Budget for experimentation: It’s rare that you land on the perfect scenario the first time around, budget this into your strategy. Abel & Cole, back in 2021, trialled milk pouches. This didn’t work but they continued to innovate until something stuck.
Be mindful: Consider what’s appropriate to refill vs what isn’t - if you can't get it back it’s not worth upweighting the amount of packaging on the basis that it ‘could’ be refilled.
Get in touch with Hugo, he has years of knowledge to share!
Policy Pulse | The Latest Sustainability Developments: CBAM enters its transition phase. What business needs to know.
The Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM) is a key tool to put a fair price on the carbon emitted during the production of carbon-intensive goods entering the EU. CBAM will tax high-carbon products coming into the EU to ensure parity with the internal ETS carbon price. The law aims to prevent ‘carbon leakage’ — where low-carbon goods are undercut by dirtier production processes elsewhere.
This covers importers of carbon-intensive goods e.g., cement, iron and steel, aluminium, fertilisers, electricity and hydrogen.
What businesses need to do
As of October 2023, CBAM entered its transitional phase which requires importers of CBAM goods to report quarterly on the following:
Quantity of imported goods (tonnes), by country of origin and production site
GHG emissions embedded in the goods, for scopes 1 and 2 (and any carbon price already paid on these)Note that importers in the scope of the new rules only need to report, without making any financial payments or adjustments during this phase.
For the first two of these quarterly CBAM reports (i.e. until 1st July 2024), importers can use default values for calculating embedded GHGs. From then they will need to use primary monitored data, so far as that is technically feasible.
The full CBAM will come into effect from 1st January 2026, from which importers will need to:
Become authorised in order to import CBAM goods
Annually declare their imported CBAM goods and GHGs
Purchase and retire CBAM certificates, set at the average ETS price, to match the quantity of embedded GHGs in imports
What to expect going forward
The transitional phase is as much a learning process for the EU as it is for impacted importers. The final data requirements, reporting process, and scope of products will all be finalised ahead of 2026.
For affected companies now is very much the time to set up the data collection and reporting processes to comply with CBAM. Production site level emissions data will likely be a collection pain point.