'Brighter Lives, Better World'; this is the title of global lighting market leader Signify's ambitious sustainability campaign. Formerly known as Philips Lighting, Signify's sustainability goals include some impressive targets, such as 100 percent carbon neutrality by 2020.

We spoke to Robbert Slooten, Global Sustainability Program Manager at Signify, who shone a light on how the company is using its sustainability policy to align its values and product offerings with the Global Goals for Sustainable Development and connect with employees, customers and communities in the developing world.

Read on to learn Robbert's views on the next steps for responsible businesses, the advantages of developing tailor-made emissions reduction projects, the importance of standards, and how Signify plans to provide electrical light to communities that lack access...

What are the reasons for Signify to develop its own new emission reduction projects? Why not just buy carbon credits from existing registered voluntary projects?

We want to be more involved, also in terms of our products, in tackling climate change. Carbon offsetting can be an abstract concept to many people. By linking carbon reduction to our business, it becomes more meaningful to our employees and stakeholders. It is a way to show how our products contribute to our global environmental goals and at the same time deliver positive social impacts in communities where it's needed the most.

How have you worked with South Pole to scope potential carbon offsetting project opportunities and identify the most interesting ones?

Immediately at the start of our partnership with South Pole, we started brainstorming ideas for tailor-made projects. South Pole helped explain the criteria for offsetting projects, determine which regions we could consider, and helped us understand all the options and limitations of the different choices we could make. With this in mind, we created an internal project team to come up with potential projects and further refined these with South Pole. Based on expected environmental and social impact, feasibility, estimated lead time and costs, we narrowed down our options. After making the final project choice, South Pole acted as project developer and took care of all administrative and certification activities.

What elements do you consider when selecting a carbon standard under which to develop your tailor-made project?

The first criteria we consider are the quality and credibility of the standard itself. Externally, one of the first indicators of your project's credibility and impact is the certification standard. Considering that developing any new emission reduction project requires considerable time and effort, you want the end result, including the certification standard, to reflect this. Next to this, we thoroughly looked at the impact our choice of standard would have on project lead time, administrative requirements for the people on the ground and costs involved. In the end, we want our investments to have an impact in the communities where we develop the projects and not be limited by administrative efforts.

What are the major difficulties and obstacles in developing a tailor-made project?

The due diligence and checks and balances that go into setting up the project and getting it certified are substantial. We could not have done this without South Pole's extensive experience to guide us in making the right decisions. Other than that, internally aligning on which opportunity to prioritise took quite some deliberation as well. Different projects present different pros and cons. And there's something about developing your own carbon offsetting project that engages people and creates pride around the company and products.

What benefits can a commitment from Signify bring to project owners, operators, NGOs and developers on the ground?

Our commitment provides clear support for the project development and delivery, and thus also certainty of the carbon financing the project generates. This enables the parties involved to plan for the longer term and maximise the impact of the project. Also, we can provide projects with a platform to increase exposure through our partnership and various media channels. This helps communicate the positive impact of our projects and hopefully inspires others to develop similar activities.

How did the activities identified make sense for your business or sustainability strategy, use your organisational expertise or align with your brand and products?

Our company purpose is to unlock the extraordinary potential of light for brighter lives and a better world. So there's a clear link between our business strategy and providing electrical light to communities that would normally not have access to this. Our company's expertise in developing the most energy efficient LED lighting can help communities where electricity is scarce or unreliable. This reduces the need to store electricity generated during the day, for example via solar panels, and maximises the number of hours the lighting can be used after sundown.

What advice can you give to other companies who would like to explore the idea of developing their own tailor-made emission reduction projects?

Go for it! Identify carbon emission reduction activities that align with your corporate strategy, business model or products and consult with an experienced project developer on how to translate your needs into a carbon offsetting project.

How does your tailor-made project reflect the business plans for Signify? Do you believe that the "status quo" is shifting towards more environmentally conscious consumers?

Definitely. Over 70 percent of our sales are to professional or corporate customers, and in our experience, these customers are increasingly aware of environmental stewardship and demand the most energy efficient products. Furthermore, there is a huge potential for solar powered off grid lighting such as remote area public lighting (i.e. street lighting) and home lighting for off-grid communities. Through tailor-made projects we can reach people we wouldn't have been able to reach through a typical commercial business scenario.

How do you plan to continue your sustainability efforts into 2018?

In 2018, we want to make clear progress towards our company's 2020 sustainability goals. This means increasing our share of revenue from sustainable products, systems and services, and specifically increasing LED lamp and luminaire sales towards our goal of delivering 2 billion to the market by 2020. We will also launch two global initiatives this year to increase our Health & Safety performance, and are actively reducing our manufacturing waste going to landfill. In 2018, we will further reduce our carbon footprint by reducing actual emissions, increasing our renewable electricity share from 80 percent to an estimated 85 percent, and we'll expand our investments in carbon offsetting projects.

What is your ultimate goal for Signify 'Brighter Lives, Better World'?

We want to inspire others; our customers, suppliers, employees, peer companies and other stakeholders to follow our lead and work with South Pole to create brighter lives and a better world. We have selected the four Sustainable Development Goals we can contribute to most: (7) affordable and clean energy; (11) sustainable cities and communities; (12) responsible consumption and production; and (13) climate action.

In what ways have your employees been engaged in the 'Brighter Lives, Better World' journey?

We engage our employees on our 2020 commitments. In 2017, we worked with South Pole to select a choice of carbon offsetting projects and our employees voted for the one they felt most strongly about. This company-wide 'election' allowed employees to choose their favourite project, which was then added to the portfolio of projects we invest in.

Out of three shortlisted projects, employees selected a reforestation project in Colombia! It was interesting to see how our Latin American colleagues felt so strongly connected with this 'local' project. We also organised a global 'Safety Week', during which we ran a 'Safety Challenge' where employees could submit examples of at-risk situations. This increases awareness and engages employees with the different parts of our sustainability strategy. We will continue to engage our employees with our sustainability journey, particularly how they can contribute towards our transition to carbon neutrality.

You can read more about Signify's journey to carbon neutrality and the Brighter Lives, Better World campaign on the South Pole website.

Photo credit: Signify