Announced in January of this year, Zero100 is an industry-led platform that aims to generate resources and research with the goal of achieving a carbon-negative supply chain. At first glance, their website is an impressive endeavour,
blending Gen-Z approved aesthetics with ambitious climate-conscious plans of changing the supply chain through technology and improved efficiency. But, is it all too good to be true?
Zero100's aim to create a carbon-negative supply chain is a reasonable one, as currently only eight supply chains are responsible for over half of the
world’s carbon emissions. However, beyond the promising outlook, the dubious face of Zero100 is
exposed. To no one's surprise, there lie the usual corporate sponsors behind most ambitious, tech-driven solutions to climate change. So, is Zero100 really a ‘radical’ platform, as they claim, or yet another attempt at greenwashing?
The overarching aim of Zero100 is to ‘apply technology to reinvent the production, distribution and consumption of physical goods for customers and the planet: a Zero Percent Carbon, 100% Digital supply chain.’
Despite research from Lancaster University positing that overreliance on technology has delayed radical changes
to current structures, Zero100 remains dedicated to the stance that technology will save the planet.
The platform outlines their approach to changing the supply chain in an interactive ‘Game Board’, where one can see the general outline for each step of their transition. The changes rely on three aspects of the supply chain: speed, cost
‘Is Zero100 really a ‘radical’ platform, or yet another attempt at greenwashing?’
Speed involves changes in the business model and inventory network (through technology) to create personalised products that can go from warehouse to consumer on an instant demand basis. It also includes better knowledge on consumer
desires, introducing the concept of a ‘batch of one’.
An example they provide of a brand showing success at ‘speed’ is Adidas, with their ability to create personalised shoes based on athlete data with bio-based materials resulting in zero waste.
This approach comes with an added benefit that marketing new designs is ‘10 to 20 times faster than before’. This commitment to advertising suggests that the ‘batch of one’ ideology is not the same as promoting the ethics of a circular
economy—but more on that later.
For Cost, they emphasise the need for more reliable supply chain partnerships and easily integrated data. There is a focus on creating products that are designed around repair and uptime, as opposed to replacing and disposing. The most
disturbing part of this grid may be the envisioned transition to ‘self-driving vehicles, decentralised workforces, and autonomous co-working co-bots’.
Great for company climate consciousness, terrible for the employees soon to be replaced with robots. Amazon—whose CEO Dave Clark has personally invested in Zero100—already operates over 200,000 mobile robots in their warehouses to achieve speedy delivery.
These robots supposedly save Amazon workers from walking 10 to 20 miles a day on hard concrete, but instead of improving working conditions, workers are made to compete against robots in a bid to prove their productivity. With more than 1.1
million employees in America’s warehouse industry, robots are the start of a labour cut now being championed as climate conscious.
Finally, Zero100 looks at Accountability. This involves improving supply chain visibility for the consumer, giving them insight into material logistics, better product tracking, and innovative technology to create carbon-negative
supply chains. Unfortunately, so far this is all the information provided on the matter of creating a carbon-negative supply chain.
Despite the aforementioned commitment to visibility, this does not extend to visibility on their website, where many of the reports and content require Zero100 ‘credentials’ to sign-in and are therefore inaccessible to the public. One is
not able to even ‘create’ an account in order to access information, such as intelligence reports created by Zero100. This informational barrier means that consumers are not able to make informed choices, despite Zero100’s stated commitment
‘Greenwashing is an attempt to make people believe your company is doing more to protect the environment than it
really is.’—Cambridge Dictionary
Despite the promising exterior of Zero100’s Game Board for changing the supply chain, a dive into the personnel behind the organisations reveals significant cause for concern. Zero100 is co-founded by ex-Amazon, SCM World, Bill & Melinda
Gates Foundation, Microsoft, Dell and Deloitte leaders and backed by personal investments from notable individuals, including the aforementioned Amazon Consumer CEO Dave Clark.
The board of Zero100 is made up of executives from companies such as Unilever, Estée Lauder, Nestlé, SC Johnson, Nike, Mondelēz International, Kroger, New Balance, and Deliveroo.
So, what are we to make of this supposedly ‘radical’ community where to be on the board one must seemingly also be an employee of some of the most polluting corporations on the planet? It seems the ‘100’ could refer to the 100 biggest plastic polluter brands and the
conglomerates that own them.
Given that these companies are known for their bad image when it comes to climate consciousness, Zero100 makes for a suitable PR distraction. There is little to no substance on their website about how exactly they will make the supply chain
carbon negative aside from a throwaway mention to implementing innovative technology.
There is also no explanation of whether this path will involve a transition to renewable energy or decarbonisation, nor any reference to schemes such as carbon trading.
Returning to the point of promoting the ethics of a circular economy, there is a mismatch between
Zero100’s focus on zero-waste and repair and how applicable they are to these corporations. As an example, Unilever owns over 400 household brands.
‘It seems the ‘100’ could refer to the 100 biggest plastic polluter brands.’
How can they apply the ‘batch of one’ production to household items that are designed with disposability in mind? This is where the illusion of circularity and supposed commitment to zero-waste becomes null. Even if we consider the example
of Adidas given by Zero100 as inspiration, there is no real commitment to scaling down production or limiting advertising as part of a circular economy approach.
When it comes to accountability, the focus seems to be on improving consumer choice and experience to encourage continued purchasing in this era of climate consciousness. This focus on consumer experience continues to emphasise personal
responsibility as opposed to structural changes within an organisation to truly deal with their impact on the climate.
Can Zero100 be seen as yet another example of greenwashing? The telltale signs are there. As Zero100 develops their initial steps into concrete plans to turn the supply chain carbon-negative, time will reveal just how ‘radical’ their
changes are to be.