The Sonos “Listen Better Report” – sounding clear!

I’ve owned several Sonos speakers for a few years…

…but I’m not any kind of Sonos stakeholder beyond that. I receive a regular stream of promotional emails from them, most of which contain little to grab the attention, but I did stop at a recent one announcing its “Listen Better Report 2022,” with the capsule description: “We are driven by the belief that listening positively impacts us all. Every year we set goals to ensure our impact is socially and environmentally sound then track our progress to share with you.”

The full report consists of 49 very informative and well-designed pages, and I imagine it would be of interest to anyone who monitors the ESG space, but I also must admit to some uncertainty in praising or citing it, as I’m quite sure my experience and acumen isn’t deep enough to avoid the possibility of being seduced by superficiality. This risk seems inherent in the over-reaching framing metaphor:

  • At Sonos, we are driven by the belief that listening has a positive impact on our lives. Sound moves us and brings us closer to the people, cultures and communities around us. We bring the same forward thinking to creating responsibly-designed products and experiences, which are built by inclusive teams in pursuit of our mission to help the world listen better.

Still, the report itself seems serious and diligent, highlighting the basic facts of the company’s identity and impact:

  • In line with industry practice, we report on our emissions from the prior fscal year to ensure the integrity of our data. Our FY21 carbon footprint was 1,257,917 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MTCO2e), broken down into Scope 1 (0.00%), Scope 2 (0.06%) and Scope 3 (99.94%) . Like our FY20 footprint, the most significant contributor is Scope 3 emissions, which result from up- and downstream activities in our value chain.
  • Although the proportions of emissions remained relatively steady across Scopes 1, 2 and 3 compared to FY20, the impact within Scope 3 shifted slightly in FY21. We’re still early in our climate journey and improving the accuracy of our data is a crucial step to meaningful progress. Accordingly, we leveraged better data in FY21 and identified that the impact of energy usage by devices was 63% of our footprint, down from 75% reported in the prior year. Though the lower impact also stems in part from grid emission intensity improvements, we intend to see future progress that can be attributed directly to our actions that improve product efficiency.

There’s a frequent tendency to think that Scope 3 emissions are in some way urgent than those in Scope 1 and 2, that they can be omitted from disclosure on the grounds of practicability, measurement uncertainty, or really, whatever you want. We looked at some such reaction in an earlier post, for instance, in a real estate context:

  • …we disagree with the baseline required to include Scope 3 emissions for all entities. While we strive to develop an industry approach where we can disclose Scope 1, 2, and 3 GHG emissions in the future, only a few of the largest entities will be able to meet these requirements. Scope 2 emissions are often outside of owners’ operational control (retail, industrial, apartments without submetering), or the data is difficult to organize (e.g., deep lake water cooling, district steam heat). Scope 3 is a new frontier for many of our members, particularly embedded carbon data in buildings.

But a disclosure like that of Sonos helps to clarify in one’s mind the importance of such “new frontier” information, regardless of methodological or conceptual difficulties. Clearly Sonos’s direct footprint isn’t as damaging as that of an airline or an oil and gas company; if its goal were to greenwash itself, it might spin its very high percentage of Scope 3 emissions into a claim that it hardly has any adverse impact at all. But as with our phones and our other devices, Sonos exemplifies how any kind of aspirational contemporary life is inherently, persistently draining on the environment; how we’re being disingenuous if we don’t include ourselves in our broader critiques and damnations. Even if only for that, it’s well worth taking a look at the report.

In other news, it’s interesting to learn that nine out of ten of all the Sonos products ever built are still in use today. And the report also addresses diversity, equity and inclusion, for example:

  • In FY22, women made up 31% of our workforce – maintaining representation with FY21 – and 25% of director-and-above positions. Employees from underrepresented races and ethnicities1 made up 38% of our U.S. workforce – an increase of 3 percentage points over FY21. Overall, representation of underrepresented races and ethnicities in our U.S. workforce remained consistent or increased across all categories from FY21 to FY22 with the exception of new hires, which decreased by 2 percentage points. We also saw a decrease in our female new hires.

And in yet other news, the Sonos speakers sound great. I’m not such a fan of the app though…

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author.

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