‹ Back

October 25, 2022

Voices of Impact: João Brites and Leah Wolfe on sustainability transparency, regenerative agriculture, and indigenous sovereignty.

Green initiatives that make carbon reduction claims or plant trees are all the rage these days — how can companies ensure they’re making a positive impact on the environment without greenwashing?

JOÃO: The number one way to work toward sustainable impact is transparency — to yourself, partners, and customers. The second is to ensure your claims are specific, measurable, and compliant with local regulatory guidance (ex: FTC Green Guides).

For example, in the US the Green Guides from the FTC recommend that brands:

  1. Qualify their environmental claims (what are you measuring, what does that mean?)
  2. Get very clear about what the claims apply to (packaging, ingredients, full product lifecycle?)
  3. Avoid overstating benefits (ex: “ecofriendly” – what does that MEAN, explanatory statements)
  4. Rely on a reasonable basis for claims (data collected by appropriate bodies using credible methodologies)

LEAH: Agreed! I would also add that codifying goals and commitments, and integrating them explicitly into internal company goals — OKRs, KPIs, ESG, etc. — is super important for reaching sustainability goals and avoiding greenwashing.

Sourcing and procurement folks are often caught between sustainability goals and business goals. When greenwashing happens, it’s often because companies are trying to tackle something huge while balancing internal stakeholder conflicts, and elements fall through the cracks.

So the more sustainability, procurement, and c-suite can improve and align interdepartmental coordination, business, and sustainability goals — even down to nitty-gritty details — the better.

What should conscious consumers look for in truly sustainable brands?

LEAH: Conscious consumers have it really hard these days! There’s a lot of conflicting information out there, and no single source of sustainability truth.

I recommend consumers start by looking into reputable, third-party certifications, and shop at brands that have those certifications.

Consumers should also keep in mind that with current-day sustainability there are often trade-offs. For example, a consumer might shop at a company whose packaging is circular, but their ingredients aren’t the most sustainable, or there are other hidden impacts. So trying to be as holistic as possible in your purchasing decisions — seeing how your wallet might support brands that do good for people and planet — is great.

Ecommerce has also really helped changed the game on sustainability and awareness. Unsure if a brand is sustainable? Or want to know what goals and efforts they’re making toward sustainability? Researching the company online is a great start.

JOÃO: Yes! Prioritizing retailers that focus on sustainable offerings is huge. I’d add that there are some retailers out there, such as Stop & Shop, where you can filter products based on sustainability attributes. So researching, before you buy, is smart.

Assessing a company’s commitment to outcomes is also a big factor in evaluating sustainability claims. In the end, we can only judge impact by actual outcomes. Additionally, their commitment to both environmental and social outcomes is something to look for.

For example, if a brand claims eco-friendly products, but ignores social factors such as land ownership, structural racism, gender inequity, etc. then they’re just focused on one aspect of their impact. Again, tackling all of these factors is an enormous undertaking, and it can be tricky for brands to conquer it all right away. So looking for brands doing their best to commit to sustainability outcomes, even beyond their own operations, is likely a good brand to purchase from.

What are a few ways individuals can contribute to climate harm reduction and more regenerative agriculture practices?

LEAH: Individualized action is always great but can be daunting when what we actually need is systemic change in sustainable business.

A lot of customers either want to be told the one secret thing they can do to save the planet or that there’s no difference they can make so they have permission to give up, and the truth is there’s no quick fix or answer.

However, if you’re looking for something you can do today as a consumer to support climate harm reduction and more regenerative agriculture practices, I recommend supporting and fighting for indigenous stewardship.

The true root of regenerative agriculture boils down to indigenous stewardship. Whether buying from native brands or donating to indigenous water protection organizations, these actions can make a significant impact by helping combat climate harm and structural racism.

JOÃO: Leah hit the nail on the head! There is a lot of research that shows that while indigenous communities account only for 5% of the world’s population, they steward 80% of the biodiversity on our planet.

I would add that personally stewarding a piece of land and garden has helped me connect to the planet. Connecting with living systems — from the rainforest to scuba diving — has helped me really appreciate and want to steward the world around me.

What are a few examples of companies you feel are getting environmental impact “right” and why?

JOÃO: Getting it “right” is a tough question, because what does “right” mean? But I would recommend any company with clear commitments to supporting indigenous leadership and stewardship is definitely on the right track. Some examples include Regen Poultry, an indigenous poultry brand, or Groupo Paisano, an organization that helps smallholder Mexican farmers gain investment equity over time to support their businesses.

LEAH: As for some additional companies doing good work with environmental impact, I’d highlight Simpli FoodsYolele, and Dr. Bronner’s! All three of these brands demonstrate meaningful investment into the communities that grow the ingredients in their products – and they’re delicious too!

Where do you see sustainability regulation going and what effect this might have on traceability, supply chains, sustainable sourcing, ESG, etc.?

JOÃO: From a regenerative agriculture perspective, there are a lot of subsidies and incentives governments provide when brands use more agroecological practices. In the US and the EU, many agricultural policies are under review to determine how they can even better incentivize sustainability at scale. Ultimately, it will come down to how far people are actually willing to go since many businesses benefit from the status quo.

Unified reporting standards are also very close to becoming more standardized at corporate and product levels across the world. For the EU, the framework should be finalized by the end of the year. UFLPA and extended producer responsibility are regulations that have already gone into effect and regulate sustainability at the supply chain and sourcing level.

Data transparency standards will be huge in the coming years. Solutions such as BanQu or HowGood – that can help you track your ingredients and materials with geographic coordinates from source to shelf can help companies keep up with those requirements.

With these sustainability trends and global shifts, the quicker brands can get started and ahead of the curve, the better!

What are some benefits to brands for prioritizing regenerative agriculture in their sourcing

LEAH: Aside from the obvious moral benefits, there are two main benefits to brands for prioritizing regenerative agriculture in their sourcing strategy:

  1. Increase supply chain resiliency. Regenerative agricultural practices power more biodiversity, increased soil health, long-term social and agriculture benefits, and more, which greatly helps increase supply chain resiliency. Especially after the last few years of supply chain disruption, this is a great benefit for any companies — food & beverage, health & beauty, fashion & textiles, etc. who source agricultural ingredients and materials for their products.
  2. Power sales through sustainability messaging. A recent NYU study, the Sustainable Market Share Index, showed that sustainable products sell – growing at a rate of 7.1 times faster than conventionally-marketed products. Especially when we look toward Gen Z and Millenials who will be our future buyers, incorporating sustainability into your business will be huge.

How can brands track and measure their Regenerative Ag efforts?

LEAH: Without farmers, there is no regenerative agriculture. So I recommend that the best way brands can track and measure their regenerative agriculture efforts and impact is to ensure that their practices are benefiting and trickling down to the farmers.

For example, longer-term contracts with investments into transitionary tech like farm equipment, inputs (i.e., seeds, fertilizer, pesticides), irrigation systems, etc. are very helpful. Farming can be very expensive, especially if farmers need to transition to more sustainable practices. However, brands can help their farmers make that transition, and support them every step of the way, which is a great win for everyone.

Creating and marketing regenerative agriculture practices and products will likely have a lot of dividends for brands. Ensuring that these companies are passing those benefits down to the farmers, is the ideal way to track and measure regen ag.

What are some hallmarks of good Regen Ag programs?

LEAH:  The best hallmarks of a good Regen Ag program are:

  1. Radical transparency. Radical transparency is the name of the game in sustainability. There are so many different terms and claims out there that can quickly result in a loss of consumer trust and understanding. We don’t want to see powerful, results-backed words such as “regenerative agriculture” become just another buzzword that loses its meaning, because it has nothing to back it up. So radical, data-backed transparency behind the words gives solid ground for sustainability claims and customer trust.
  2. Willingness to try. Sustainability systems and approaches are complex and imperfect. When brands greenwash, it’s truly difficult to tell the difference between purposeful greenwashing or accidental greenwashing. Making, tracking, and achieving sustainability goals is hard! Mistakes are going to be made. It’s important that brands feel encouraged to try and improve and learn rather than never start at all. While it’s critical to monitor and enforce greenwashing litigation, we also want to encourage more brands to take that leap into sustainability, and radical transparency can prove good intent better than marketing.

BanQu is a leading traceability solution that helps brands and manufacturers trace their ingredients and materials from source to shelf — with real-time data to back up sustainability claims — on a single platform.

HowGood is the world’s largest database on food and personal care product sustainability. With more than 33,000 ingredients, chemicals and materials assessed, to help companies improve their environmental and social impact.

João Brites is the Director of Growth and Innovation at HowGood, where he helps businesses and brands transform their approach to sustainability. João became interested in regenerative agriculture and sustainability after spending time in the Amazon rainforest, working with brands to source sustainably through local communities and native stewardship.

Leah Wolfe is the Head of Regenerative Education and Content for HowGood, working to provide deeper insights into the intersection of regenerative agriculture, actionable data, and consumer trends for all. Leah started her sustainable journey working at a whole animal butchery in Brooklyn, where she taught communities about sustainable butchery and regenerative agriculture.

BanQu creates blockchain solutions for some of the modern world's biggest challenges, such as supply chain transparency and identity platforms for impoverished populations. We believe that with blockchain's bright future, world poverty can become a thing of the past.

Request a Demo

Our friendly team will book an hour with you to walk through an example of the platform, targeting your specific use case.

BanQu Demo