With the announcement of our new Climate Action Plan, Sonos is expanding how we think about the environmental impact of our work, committing to carbon neutrality by the end of the decade, and taking bold new steps toward a sustainable future.
At a time when the climate crisis threatens the future of the planet, it’s vital that we think holistically and critically about how our actions affect the world around us: from broad political change to individual actions, and from waste reduction to ecosystem protection. With the launch of our new Climate Action Plan, we’re entering a new phase in our commitment to environmental responsibility, building on work we’ve been doing for many years, and setting ambitious targets for the future.
This process begins with the Climate Action Plan itself, and its focus on reducing Sonos’s carbon footprint: with the commitment to become carbon neutral by 2030 and net zero by 2040. This year Sonos will partner with the nonprofit Sustainable Surf to invest in carbon offsets for 2021, with a portion of our funding used to restore kelp forests along the California coast. Alongside the specific focus of our Climate Action Plan on carbon emissions, we’re also announcing a raft of wider sustainability measures including: dramatically reducing the energy our products use, extending the product lifespan by making them easier to repair and recycle, switching to 100% paper packaging by 2025, decreasing the environmental footprint of our supply chain, and working with world-leading organisations on research, accreditation and accountability.
This is a major package of commitments and policies, reflecting many years of existing work at Sonos and setting out our priorities for decades to come. But how did we get here? Deji Olukotun, Director of Policy and Corporate Social Responsibility, emphasises the connection between past and present. “We've been on this journey for a number of years now not just thinking about sustainability, but also our supply chain, how the people who make our products are treated, and how our facilities and offices are managed,” he explains. “So we've spent the past few years listening and learning, seeing how we can improve, and then putting that into practice. The climate crisis demands action. Every single office where we have employees has experienced extreme weather over the past couple of years, and that makes this work feel real and urgent to all of us.”
The first step was to map and disclose our global carbon footprint, which yielded surprising results. “We learned that the biggest source of our emissions wasn't our supply chain, production, or distribution. Less than a quarter of our overall footprint involves the pulling of materials out of the ground, building our products, and getting them to our retailers,” Deji says. In fact, 75% of our carbon emissions come from the energy consumed during each product’s lifecycle, which in turn guided the focus of our Climate Action Plan.
“In some ways, it was a welcome surprise because it's an area that we have more control over. We want to help our customers make responsible choices, so we’ll be able to present them with more options about energy use, like shutting down parts of their system while other parts are active, or being more intentional with speakers using voice assistants.” Sonos has also committed to extending the sleep mode we introduced with Roam to all new products from 2023. This renewed focus on efficiency will reduce the energy consumed by our products by 35% within the next decade, forming a key part of our carbon neutral and net-zero goals.
Fully auditing and then reducing our carbon footprint is only one part of the puzzle though. “These climate-focused steps are extremely important, but there are other aspects of sustainability that matter,” explains Deji. “For example, the moment when a product reaches the end of its life has a relatively low impact from a carbon emissions standpoint, but it could have a big environmental footprint in terms of e-waste or materials ending up back in the soil.” In 2022 Sonos will move beyond mapping our products’ carbon emissions and begin auditing these wider environmental impacts too. “It’s going to give us a very granular level of detail into our products,” says Deji. “These important insights will help us make good design decisions in the future.”
We’ll also be working on groundbreaking projects which use sound to support fragile ecosystems. “We’ve been thinking a lot as a company about the concept of regeneration—the idea that you shouldn’t just be reducing your environmental footprint, but giving back more than you take out to leave the Earth better off than when you found it.” This commitment to regenerative work has seen Sonos collaborate with organisations that specialise in using sound to improve the environment, from joining the Music Declares Emergency coalition and hosting the Climate Blowout Conference summit on climate solutions within the music industry, to funding cutting-edge bioacoustic research. One of the high-impact projects Deji and his colleagues are already supporting involves a team of scientists using multi-mic arrays and machine learning to track the sounds of endangered spotted owls across California as they return to ecosystems ravaged by recent wildfires. A key marker species whose presence indicates re-established biodiversity further down the food chain, owls (and their sonic signature) gives researchers a clearer understanding of how quickly different ecosystems are recovering so they can decide where to focus their efforts.
Tracking our progress
All of this is great, but we know that talk is cheap: what really matters is putting these lofty principles and ambitious ideas into action. There are two clear paths to making sure that Sonos is living up to the standards we’ve articulated in our Climate Action Plan. Firstly, we’re setting clear goals so that all of our stakeholders have a tangible sense of the progress we’ve made: “The key difference between a company that says they’re going to do something, and one that actually does it, is the use of performance targets,” explains Deji. “For the past five years, we’ve had these in relation to our packaging, our energy efficiency and auditing our supply chain. But now we’re layering on these new climate targets as well.” This doesn’t come without challenges, though. “One of the interesting things with these targets is that you have to say when you didn’t meet them. I think it’s a real challenge for a lot of companies to be transparent about where they’ve missed the mark. Announcing those goals publicly, as we’ve done, and reporting back on them, as we’re going to do, is a huge part of that accountability.”
The second way in which we’ll be making Sonos’ progress transparent and accountable is by partnering with outside agencies that maintain industry-wide standards on carbon, sustainability and ethics. By the end of 2021, Sonos will be a full member of the Responsible Business Alliance, an organisation that will help audit our supply chain and ensure we adhere to best practices, and the Forest Stewardship Council, which certifies our use of sustainable paper-based products. In both cases, these gold standard organisations will make sure that we’re meeting our aspirations.
Across all of this work, our underlying philosophy can be summed up in two words: Listen better. Initially created as a project title for Deji and his colleagues’ work on social impact, this phrase has since been adopted as a mantra across the whole of Sonos, embodying not just our commitment to high-quality sound, but ensuring that we help make the world a better place.
“This is a collective action opportunity—particularly for climate change, but also in terms of broader sustainability—in that the more companies that get involved, the easier it becomes. At Sonos I think we can be proud to recognise that people really care, that there’s been a big cultural shift, and that we’re all committed to this journey.”