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This is the weekly Careers newsletter.

Déjà Leonard is a copywriter and freelance journalist based in Calgary.

Many businesses are struggling to figure out what it means to be sustainable – and their employees, investors and customers are all asking for different things. To meet these demands, some companies turn to “greenwashing,” a practice by which they deceptively market their products or policies to appear environmentally friendly when they are not.

A 2022 Harris Poll for Google Cloud found 58 per cent of executives across 16 countries “agree that green hypocrisy exists and their organization has overstated their sustainability efforts.” Two-thirds “questioned how genuine some of their organization’s sustainability initiatives are.”

And research by the European Commission in 2021 found 42 per cent of green claims made by businesses online were exaggerated, false or deceptive.

Not only is greenwashing misleading, but it will cost businesses. According to Forrester Research, Inc., a global market-research company, at least 10 companies are expected to incur US$5-million or more in greenwashing fines in 2023.

Erin Brillon, owner of Totem Design House on K’omoks First Nation on Vancouver Island, shares how Indigenous practices and knowledge of running a business can help guide the way toward a truly sustainable enterprise.

Running a business, the Indigenous way

“I feel like the difference in Indigenous ways of knowing is that ecology is always in the forefront of our mind,” Ms. Brillon said. “It’s not the last thing we think about.”

She owns an Indigenous lifestyle brand that produces an array of apparel, jewellery, home decor, fine art and wellness products.

She said she has always tried to be as eco-friendly as possible when building the brand, which started in 2014.

For example, the business tries to make its products locally and pays for an optional carbon offset fee when it is shipping products to customers.

The business also gives back to non-profits supporting the Indigenous community and helps educate customers about the culture through its products.

“It’s really important for us to try to educate both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people about our culture so that there is a bridge and there is more understanding between cultures,” Ms. Brillon said.

Much of this positive action has started by asking questions, she said: “How is this product going to impact the local ecosystem or how has the production of this item impacted the planet in general?”

Creating a value system that leads to a sustainable business

No matter the company size or industry, one step businesses can take to begin their own sustainability journey is taking a look at their values and aligning them to sustainable practices, and Ms. Brillon said that takes a shift in mindset.

“In a capitalistic society, you’re just thinking of profitability,” she said.

She said that means company leaders need to think about what they value, how they want to make an impact on the world, and what type of sacrifices they are willing to make to be a more responsible business.

Ms. Brillion also said that being a more sustainable business has both pros and cons.

“A lot of the options that we choose that are more eco-friendly actually harm our profitability,” she said.

But there is an upside. Ms. Brillion said having an eco-friendly business can bring in more customers because people care about what type of companies they are buying from.

Looking at your values is important, but she said business owners should also look at their mission statements, which can typically be tied to the bottom line.

Every business needs to make money to survive, but there are questions that need to be considered.

“We’re always thinking: ‘How can we grow in a way that’s sustainable? How can we grow in a way that’s not harmful? How can we grow in a way that’s empowering to our communities?’ and things like that,” she said.

The work is never done.

Ms. Brillon referred to the process of being a sustainable business as “ongoing” but worth it.

“If corporations start to make those steps toward becoming more sustainable then their customer base is going to approve,” she said.

What I’m reading around the web

  • When a principal in Florida realized the school was facing a massive teacher shortage because of burnout from remote learning, he came up with an interesting solution: converting his previous students into staff as part-time substitutes, classroom aides and secretaries.
  • Social psychologist Mesmin Destin explains how a few words can change the course of a life. Watch this TEDx Talk, or read the transcript, to get a better idea of how your everyday interactions play a powerful role in who you become.
  • People are living longer, healthier lives and that means they need to change the way they look at their careers, according to this Wall Street Journal article. Experts say employees should focus less on rising the ladder as fast as possible, and more on beneficial sideways or downward moves that will serve them well during a longer career.
  • Get a peek into the mind of Terence Reilly in this article. He’s the marketing pro who managed to make Crocs cool again by leveraging celebrity partnerships and helped the Stanley Quencher tumbler go viral on TikTok.

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