As brands and agencies dig in to meet climate and emissions reduction goals, many are turning to outside experts for help. As such, more than a third of businesses are hiring consultants to help with ESG reporting processes, according to GreenBiz’s 2022 report.
In response, a new set of businesses is springing up to meet the need—creating a sector that Ken Pucker, senior lecturer in sustainable business dynamics at the Fletcher School at Tufts University, has dubbed “Sustainability, Inc.”
In the past year, companies like Gravity Climate and footsprint have emerged to support the transition to a low-emissions economy. Companies like Carbon Better have transformed their overall missions to add carbon measurement and mitigation consulting to their portfolios, and major consulting firms like PwC and EY have announced they will further expand their sustainability consulting services over the next few years.
But as companies pile into the fast-growing cottage industry, there’s a risk for agencies and brands looking for expertise they don’t have in-house. Measuring, reducing and offsetting emissions is a complex science, and experts predict inconsistencies—some of which could result in greenwashing—until regulatory standards are in place.
“Sustainability has become big business,” Pucker told Adweek. “From consultants to data providers to assessment services and climate monitoring services, there is an explosion of companies that have dedicated themselves to focusing mainly on carbon measurement and remediation.”
Encouraging carbon reduction
Gravity Climate, a b-to-b company that measures, optimizes, reduces and offsets greenhouse gas emissions for companies in the industrial sector, is one newcomer in this category.
Founded in early 2022 by Saleh ElHattab, the company’s platform simplifies carbon measurement for industrial companies, highlighting cost-saving benefits that often coincide with some of the first steps towards reducing emissions: for example, improving efficiency and streamlining processes.
“Gravity was born as a flywheel to accelerate development [new] technologies to reduce carbon,” explained ElHattab. This means measuring and managing clients’ footprints, for starters, and then implementing carbon reductions through technology and linking them to offsets for remaining footprints.
While it’s hard to get accurate numbers on the number of companies emerging in this space, experts expect operations like Gravity to continue to pop up—especially with policies like the Inflationary Reduction Act (IRA) funding the transition.
“With the IRA, there’s going to be a huge amount of money that’s just starting to come in,” Solitaire Townsend, co-founder and chief solutions officer at sustainability-focused marketing agency Futerra, told Adweek. “If you’re b-to-b, [there’s an expectation] from your customers, from your new talent and policy makers; if you are among customers, from your consumers.”
Townsend describes this momentum as the beginning of “green fever.” Resources, interest, technological advances and the countdown to 2050 — when the world needs to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius — are driving this work. Companies like Gravity, footsprint and large consulting firms handle the logistics.
Choose your partners wisely
However, there is a risk of greening in this space given the large number of newcomers and the current lack of universally accepted regulatory standards. Townsend pointed out a few telltale signs of a company that brands and agencies should avoid.
“If a promise sounds too good, it almost always is,” she advised. “If someone says they can reduce your absolute carbon emissions to zero… that’s not true. Because it’s never easy, direct, quick or simple.”