Driving Sustainability: The Role of ESG Metrics and Sustainable PPE in Reducing Scope 3 Emissions

Driving Sustainability: The Role of ESG Metrics and Sustainable PPE in Reducing Scope 3 Emissions

Investors and stakeholders increasingly emphasize the importance of environmental, social and governance metrics to drive corporate sustainability and ethical business practices.

Is it possible to do well while doing good? Environmental, social and governance (ESG) describes a set of business performance metrics that are focused on environmental sustainability and ethical issues. ESG metrics hope to drive companies to do just that. ESG has been one of the most buzz-worthy terms in the business community for the last several years.

Increasingly, investors are applying these non-financial ESG factors as part of their analysis frameworks. Growth in ESG has been nothing short of amazing. A 2022 study by the Capital Group found that nearly 90 percent of investors consider ESG issues as a part of their investment analysis. Stakeholders hope that greater inclusion of ESG factors in investment decisions will contribute to more stable and predictable markets. This thinking is particularly relevant for environmental risks, the “E” in ESG. The “E” considers a company’s utilization of natural resources and the effect of its operations on the environment, both in its direct operations and across its supply chains.

Emissions Scopes: Focus on Scope 3 Emissions for PPE

Every business has carbon emissions (or carbon footprint) associated with its normal operations. These emissions are generally categorized into “scopes” to help bucket emissions sources and associated responses.

Emissions scopes are defined as follows:

• Scope 1. Direct emissions from company assets. Scope 1 includes emissions from combustion, process emissions and accidental emissions from leaks and spills.

• Scope 2. Indirect emissions from purchased energy like heating and cooling buildings and running production processes.

• Scope 3. All other emissions associated with a company’s activities. This includes all other indirect emissions associated with a company’s upstream and downstream operations.

A good shorthand to understand what each scope includes is that Scope 1 pertains to what the company burns, Scope 2 relates to the energy the company buys and Scope 3 is everything else. All the indirect emissions from goods purchased by the company are included in Scope 3 emissions.

Right now, there is a heavy focus on Scopes 1 and 2 emissions, particularly for water conservation and direct energy consumption. But Scope 3 emissions are just as important and can provide low-hanging fruit for sustainability gains. Scope 3 emissions are often the largest culprit of a company’s carbon footprint, potentially accounting for more significant carbon emissions than Scopes 1 and 2 combined. Just think about all the purchased plastics in a typical manufacturing facility, all of which represents Scope 3 carbon emissions.

Another key issue for end users is that Scopes 1 and 2 reductions almost always require capital investment. Many Scope 3 emissions reductions can be achieved without any additional investment at all. For example, just by converting from a non-sustainable glove to a sustainable one, an end user can claim credit for emissions reductions, all with no additional investment. As a result, there will be increased focus on reducing the carbon footprint associated with purchased goods, such as PPE.

End users looking to reduce their Scope 3 emissions will need suppliers that can provide sustainable products and have done the work to reliably quantify the carbon emissions of the products they provide.

Sustainable Technologies and Sustainable Reporting for PPE

There have been huge advancements in sustainable materials that provide solutions that not only perform on par with non-sustainable alternatives but can also offer a lower total cost of ownership at comparable prices to incumbent solutions, particularly in the industrial glove sector. At one time, “green” products were generally expected to offer lower performance at a premium price. Advances in technology and economies of scale fueled by increased customer demand for sustainable products have turned those expectations on end.

Several leading industrial glove manufacturers have developed innovative technologies aimed at reducing carbon footprints. These technologies leverage recycled or renewable content and/or have been designed with sustainable end-of-life strategies like recyclability or enhanced biodegradability. Now an array of sustainable PPE solutions that meet requirements for safety performance provide the same form, fit, and function and are offered at comparable prices to incumbent PPE. Combine these products with reliable sustainability data and end users have real sustainability wins that can be included in company ESG reporting.

Steps End Users Should Take to Leverage the Benefits of Sustainable PPE

• Get buy-in from executive leadership. Sustainability is undoubtedly on the radar of senior leadership. But company management may be so focused on capital-intensive Scopes 1 and 2 projects that they haven’t had the opportunity to consider the potential benefits from Scope 3 emissions, such as sustainable PPE. Sustainable PPE could provide a quick emissions reduction win to help leaders see the potential benefits of allocating resources to Scope 3 programs.

• Align on metrics. The infrastructure for environmental policy is still very much in development. There is a huge gap around common language, assessment frameworks, performance metrics and policies. Despite, these challenges, the business community and other sustainability stakeholders have aligned on CO2e as a critical emissions metric. A variety of different greenhouse gases (GHGs) or Global Warming Potential (GWP) gases have been linked to human activity. Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the most common. CO2e or carbon dioxide “equivalent” emissions describes the warming potential of all company GHGs as a single unit. Start by assessing your company’s CO2e. Whatever assessment scheme we all ultimately settle on will include carbon emissions. Innovative product solutions must be combined with new ways of assessing the environmental impact of using these products. PPE suppliers must not only invest in the development of sustainable products but also build processes and tools that provide end users with reliable sustainability reporting data.

• Demand certifications and third-party test results from PPE suppliers. Readers with industrial safety backgrounds readily grasp the need for independent, third-party testing for PPE. In the safety community, marketing claims that cannot be backed by reliable test data often aren’t worth the paper they are printed on. The same thinking holds true for sustainability claims. According to an American Marketing Association study, 58 percent of environmentally focused ads have at least one deceptive claim. But avoiding deceptive “green-washing” is relatively straightforward. Product suppliers need to provide certifications from accredited bodies or test reports from third-party lab testing to back their claims, just as they do for safety-related claims. Any company can claim they are using recycled materials. So it is very important to look for certifications like the GRS (Global Recycled Standard) or RCS (Recycled Claim Standards) on sustainable products to validate that the products and raw materials have been sourced from compliant providers. The point is that product testing and reliable data sources are the keys to avoiding greenwashing. End users have the power to demand test results and certifications to validate product claims and ensure sustainable materials content.

• Celebrate actions with stakeholders and employees. With sustainability initiatives, progress may be more important than perfection. Be sure to celebrate actions all along your environmental sustainability journey, and make sure to include your employees. According to a study by the National Environmental Education Foundation, almost 90 percent of employees say their company’s sustainability efforts enhance their job satisfaction and overall feelings about the company. Think about how wearing sustainable hand protection made from recycled water bottles might impact compliance and employee engagement. Several end-user partners are posting their own company water bottle to glove metrics to drive employee engagement and overall buy-in for any changes in PPE.

The increasing need for sustainable products has accurately been labeled “one of the key challenges facing industry in the 21st century.” Industry will continue to focus on the huge potential for environmental sustainability gains linked to purchased goods like PPE. To support this shift, safety equipment suppliers must recognize their critical role in not only developing sustainable products but providing reliable data to quantify the benefits of these solutions for end users. End users have the power to drive action by demanding independent, third-party test results and material certifications to validate environmental sustainability claims.

This article originally appeared in the June 2024 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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