Pinterest’s sustainability lead on businesses needing to find sustainability ‘superpowers’

EXCLUSIVE: Pinterest’s global sustainability lead Mia Ketterling speaks to edie to discuss the organisation’s new 100% renewables target and how businesses need to figure out what “superpower” they have to make the biggest impacts in responding to the climate crisis and engaging with staff and employees.

Pinterest’s sustainability lead on businesses needing to find sustainability ‘superpowers’

With almost 500 million active monthly users Pinterest is one of the largest and most-used social media platforms on the planet. But as the planet continues to suffer as the climate crisis heightens, many organisations are realising that they have unique roles to play in responding and helping to deliver a just response.

Earlier this year, Pinterest introduced new guidelines aimed at ending the circulation of climate-related misinformation. In what it claimed was an industry first, Pinterest stated it would remove content that “denies the existence or impacts of climate change, the human influence on climate change, or that climate change is backed by scientific consensus”.

False or misleading information about climate solutions, and content that misrepresents data and reports from climate scientists, will also be removed.

Additionally, “harmful” false or misleading content around natural disasters and extreme weather events will no longer be allowed on Pinterest. These rules will apply to advertisements and to content that users post for free on their personal accounts. Users seeing content that breaches these rules are encouraged to report it to Pinterest.

For the company’s global sustainability lead Mia Ketterling, this decision was one of the “first steps” that Pinterest is taking on its sustainability journey, and Ketterling believes that businesses have a duty to find their “superpowers” that enable a response to the climate crisis.

“We’re really committed to doing our part to promote sustainable outcomes,” Ketterling tells edie. “We’re thinking about this holistically, both on our platform and then also within our offices and communities.

“I think that focusing on solutions is something that’s really important. And I think for any business you really need to look at what your superpowers are and that everyone’s reaction to the climate crisis is going to be a little bit different. For us, we can look at our offices and others will look at things like data centres or product manufacturing. For Pinterest, our superpower is really our platform. Safe, truthful, actionable information on our platform is one way that we can contribute.”

Research published by Stop Funding Heat and the Real Facebook Oversight Board last November found that climate misinformation on Facebook attracts between 818,000 and 1.36 million views on the platform each day. This is far higher than the average number of daily visits made to Facebook’s Climate Science Centre, an initiative launched in 2020 to provide access to factual climate information.

Shortly after that research was published, US-based nonprofit Avaaz released a report outlining how a small cohort of publishers are producing most of the most popular climate misinformation content on Facebook. This cohort includes the likes of PragerU and Turning Point USA. Avaaz also levelled similar criticisms at Google.

Searches for a greener life are rising on Pinterest. People are regularly turning to Pinterest to find ideas to incorporate sustainability into their entire lifestyle. According to Pinterest internal search data from February/March 2022 to February/March 2021, searches for “zero waste tips” were six times greater, “recycling clothes ideas” were four times higher, “recycled home decor” increased by +95% and “zero waste lifestyle” increased by +64% compared to last year.

In response, Pinterest has invited creators to post more environmental stories and is actively supporting the works of environmental organisations, including Project Drawdown, Intersectional Environmentalist, and Potential Energy Coalition. In particular, Pinterest provides these organisations with donations to support their work and with ad credits to elevate their content on the platform.

Office renewables

The company is also attempting to “walk the walk” on its sustainability themes. Pinterest has committed to purchasing 100% renewable electricity across its offices worldwide by 2023, alongside efforts to incorporate nature into the design phase of new buildings.

The company’s headquarters will be one of the first to switch to 100% renewables through CleanPowerSF’s SuperGreen programme. Energy Attribute Certificates will be purchased for the company’s global real estate portfolio across cities like Chicago, Tokyo and São Paulo.

Pinterest will also prioritise programmes and projects that are located in the countries they are based and within the same year, the electricity was consumed. An emphasis will also be placed on supporting local community projects.

This transition will not come without challenges, however, namely in addressing the longstanding issues that many businesses face when attempting to engage with landlords and property owners to enable investments into renewables and low-carbon solutions.

Historically, landlords have often having been reluctant to disclose energy information or invest in retrofitting. However, this could all be about to change, as tenant pressure for green properties post-pandemic mounts. A survey of 2,000 decision-makers in the commercial property sector this summer found that more than half (55%) saw growth in demand for sustainable buildings over the past 12 months.

Pinterest has engaged with its landlords in a bid to gain better data and information on renewables uptake, while also developing “more meaningful and actionable conversations” with them on the climate crisis.

“We work really closely with our landlords and property managers for the all the different office spaces that we occupy to understand what the current mix is of electricity for those offices,” Ketterling said. “

“I think [sustainability] is something that’s becoming more mainstream, and we’re probably not the only tenants requesting this data and these changes, so its much easier for us to have more meaningful and actionable conversations with our landlords on this.”

Employee engagement

Ketterling notes that the climate misinformation programme and the renewables target are the “first steps” for Pinterest’s sustainability journey, with more initiatives to be announced other the coming months and years.

The success of these programmes will likely hinge on continuing this successful engagement, not just externally with landlords and content creators, but also internally with employees.

While the efforts to help its users embrace more sustainable living are easily visible, how the company is helping its staff is less easy to search for.

Pinterest has introduced an office waste reduction initiative in which old laptops are donated to communities, while office-based food waste reductions has seen the company invest in artificial intelligence in its kitchens to track waste.

But in a post-pandemic environment, where many businesses offer flexible and home working, Pinterest knows it needs to engage employees and educate them on the sustainability options available at home.

“Earlier this year we announced our model that provides employees with flexibility and really choosing where they want to work that best suits them,” Ketterling adds. “So we see a lot of people working from home when that works best for them and then also using our world-class office spaces.

“We started looking at what sort of benefits we could offer and information that we could provide employees to help them save energy when they’re working from home. We’re really looking for ways to think about employees and meeting them where they are and providing a holistic experience to ensure sustainable outcomes that gives them a platform to offer ideas too.”

One such initiative is through a partnership with EnergySage, which offers resources to staff on the benefits of solar installations at home and also offers a $200 bonus on rooftop installations and a $75 discount on community solar investments.

Pinterest also offers its 3,800 commuting employees a monthly stipend to take public transport and is currently purchasing renewable energy credits to offset domestic electricity usage for staff.

For Ketterling, the natural interest around climate change can act as a platform to help embed sustainability into every job function, which in turn elevates the influence and scope of the company’s sustainability actions moving forward.

“There are spheres of influence on how our staff can make their job into a climate job, even if they don’t have sustainability in their title,” she adds. “We can try and bring a sustainability lens to their day-to-day work.

“We’re committed to engaging our employees on this and it’s something that we’re really seeing people really being naturally interested in. Our role is to help them understand how they can help and participate.”

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