As explained by Plan A’s Head of Partnerships Tom Kerby, or the man to talk to in order to create planet-saving action.
How does Plan A partner with businesses?
Most of our partnerships are sponsorship arrangements: we match a business with a project on the platform, and the business sponsors the project. We produce content for our channels that tell the story to our audiences and promote businesses that are choosing to act on climate change. Doing this helps raise the standard of environmental responsibility, and over time contributes towards the improvement of corporate behaviour (also, businesses usually expect recognition for this kind of stuff as it is great for marketing – which is fair enough and not necessarily a bad thing).
Why does Plan A partner with businesses?
Businesses have an important role to play in fighting climate change. First of all, they are often responsible for a lot of environmental problems. Second, businesses often have lots of resources to spend on social impact, environmental work and marketing. This money can go to NGOs and their projects, and mitigate businesses impacts by getting great work done on the ground (for example, reforestation). A big part of Plan A’s work is breaking down the barriers between businesses and climate action. We believe that every business should be able to reduce their impact, and we enable them to do so.
What companies Plan A COULD NOT engage with?
Our approach is to be inclusive but we do, of course, have exclusion criteria and will not work with:
- Businesses that conflict with the mission and vision of Plan A, which can be found in our declaration of principle. For example, an oil company which is directly responsible for environmental damage.
- Businesses that are not transparent about their environmental impact, and do not have a track record showing the steps they are taking to reduce it.
- Businesses that do not respect the importance of Plan A’s autonomy, and will influence our objectives and operations.
- Businesses that directly conflict with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). For example, tobacco companies conflict with SDG #3 which concerns healthy lives and well-being, and an oil company could be in conflict with SDGs #7, 12, 13, 14, & 15 (these refer to clean energy, consumption and the environment).
- Businesses that have lobbied for policies that lead to environmental damage (e.g. reduced protections).
Why should businesses that damage our planet be involved in financing climate action? Isn’t this greenwashing?
‘Greenwashing’ is making unsubstantiated and/ or misleading claims about the eco-credentials of a product, service or practice. If a business claims to have minimised its impact without having taken the steps to do so, this is a basic form of greenwashing. Engaging with climate change and environmental initiatives does not automatically mean greenwashing, though. What matters is how the actions are presented and the level of transparency.
A common example of greenwashing is the environmental sections of extractive industry corporations’ websites. Typically extensive and full of beautiful pictures of wildlife, healthy coral reefs and rainforests, it’s quite easy to be seduced by them. Impressive sounding statistics and pledges can influence your perception of these companies, who will say that they “work to protect biodiversity” (Shell Global). In some cases, business operations at the moment are simply incompatible with environmental responsibility.
Some industries can make major steps in reducing their impact, though. For example, Vaude of Germany is considered the sustainability leader of its industry (outdoor clothing and equipment), with a holistic approach to reducing impact across the whole company – whilst also being very transparent about the challenges they face and not misleading consumers about the green credentials of their product lines. Compared to an oil company, a clothing brand can take real steps to improve their behaviour if they choose to.
In terms of the bigger picture: we either help and push business to get better, or we do nothing. In doing nothing we either decide that environmentally damaging business will somehow disappear before our world is ravaged by climate change, or that necessary improvements in behaviour will be made naturally. This may happen, but there really isn’t much time available, so the best thing to is get involved and encourage change.
How can we get businesses to improve their practices internally, instead of sticking to what is essentially an ‘off-setting’ approach?
In an eco-capitalist-utopia, businesses would have net zero impact and exist in harmony with our environment. With the way we produce and consume at the moment though, this is clearly impossible, so we need to focus on feasible and ambitious change right now.
As Plan A grows, we want to develop our offering to businesses and become a driver of change within them. This means guiding and empowering them to become more sustainable. Usually, the will is there, but obstacles and challenges get in the way. Looking forward, we want to position Plan A as a network and enabler of synergistic relationships between businesses, NGOs and innovators. Developing this ecosystem is, I think, an essential approach to effective climate action. It is also a key characteristic of where corporate social responsibility (CSR) is going.
Is there a minimum ticket to be part of this table? What if I’m a single-person company that wants to help?
We typically offer sponsorship starting at 20% of the project’s funding goal. However, we a pretty flexible and will consider most partnership proposals, as there is always potential for new and interesting ways of working together. The only concrete criteria in this respect is that the partnership is mutually beneficial, meaning that it is in support of Plan A’s ethos, mission and the projects we fundraise for. Our aim is always to create the best results for the the planet, in a way that works for everybody involved.
Can businesses contribute something other than money?
Of course, not every partnership has to be a financial transaction. For example, over the last year and a half Plan A has partnered with numerous businesses for our events, which have been attended by ~7000 people in Berlin. Our two park clean-ups were supported by BRLO and Bionade – companies that manage their sustainability and choose to engage with the work of Plan A (and other organisations). If a business believes in us and we believe in them, there is always a way to work together.
What does does the future hold, for Plan A and the interaction between businesses and environmental issues?
Plan A is (and probably always will be) developing new ideas and approaches to our work. As we continue to grow, more and more opportunities and capabilities will emerge and our reach and impact will develop. What’s important for us is continuing to build our network and the interactions it facilitates, alongside being up to speed with how climate action in NGOs and CSR in business moves forward. These worlds are full of driven and talented people that can achieve great things together if empowered to do so – and this is where we join in.
No one stakeholder can address climate change themselves, and so looking forward I imagine continually closer ties between different parties and more and more pressure from consumers for businesses to move towards sustainability. Hopefully, we will also soon see significant political involvement in the climate change problem, meaning policies that can make a difference, and are actually enforced.
Tom moved to Berlin from London in late 2017 with a background in social anthropology and interest in corporate social responsibility & environmental governance. He is happiest hiking and climbing in mountain ranges, doesn’t think all businesses are bad, and isn’t keen on super hot weather. Working to help businesses reduce their environmental impact seemed like a good idea in this respect, and he joined Plan A in the summer of 2018 to do just that.