“One of the things you have to remember about sustainability is that it will take us all forever to accomplish.”
-William McDonough, author, Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way we Make Things
Everyone is “greening up”, but there are as many definitions of “sustainability” as there are questions. Take these few excerpts from the 20,900,000 references I found after “Googling” the word:
• Sustainability is a process that commands all aspects of human life affecting sustenance.
• Sustainability means resolving the conflict between the two competing goals: the sustenance of human life and the integrity of nature.
• Sustainability involves the simultaneous pursuit of economic prosperity, environmental quality and social equity.
Regardless of how you define it, it’s clear that almost every aspect of daily life and human society will eventually be influenced by the push for sustainability in some way. Approximately 50 percent of consumers consider at least one sustainability factor in selecting consumer packaged goods, according to a survey conducted by Information Resources Inc. And about 30 percent of buyers look for “eco-friendly” products and packaging in their brand selection, the same study found.
Sustainability issues also cut across every age group, though older consumers are actually more likely to weigh multiple sustainability factors in their purchases. This consumer group has the most disposable income and the ability and willingness to pay extra for eco-friendly products.
But, the truth is, saying it and living it are two very different behaviors. People are waking up to the fact that we have very real environmental issues to deal with, but they are coming at the issues from the perspective of the consumer-and consumers consume!
Brand owners are also in a quandary, or in a “suspended state of preparedness”, as I refer to it. The more marketers I speak with, the more I hear about their “wait and see” attitude.
I was quite surprised to hear five major CPG companies share similar sentiments: “We are gathering information and want to be ready when the mandate comes down from the CEO’s office that we have to ‘green’ up our packaging!”
Since the industry is in such a formulative phase, the brand that successfully incorporates elements of “green” into its packaging design is the leader.
Let’s take a look at some brands that have taken the leap and incorporated some measure of sustainability into the design of their identities, products and packaging:
CasabellaCasabella has always been a “design”-oriented company that takes everyday products and makes them attractive, functional and fun.
The brand recently introduce three new biodegradable kitchen organizer products made from a corn-based bioplastic-a dish drainer, cutlery holder and sponge holder-which is being certified for compostability under standards set by international organizations.
SunChipsFrito-Lay’s SunChips now come packaged with what no other chip brand can boast: a “Green-e” energy credit designation for the brand’s use of renewable energy certificates (or RECs). SunChips has acquired enough RECs to cover 100 percent of the electricity needed for production at its plant in Modesto, Calif.
Pangea Organics is what I consider the most clever and innovative company using sustainable manufacturing processes to produce, distribute and market organic bath and body products and packaging. Products do not contain petroleum-based ingredients, sulfates, detergents, synthetic preservatives, artificial colors or fragrances.
All of the brand’s secondary packaging is made using 100 percent post-consumer paper, and some of the packaging can not only be recycled, but planted into the ground to produce organic, edible Italian sweet basil and organic Amaranth flowers.
The added benefit is a powerful consumer experience that makes consumers think about where that box is going when they’re finished with it-and where it began!
Seventh GenerationSeventh Generation has a commitment to becoming the world’s most trusted brand of authentic, safe and environmentally responsible products for a healthy home. For 18 years, the company has been at the forefront of a cultural change in consumer behavior and business ethics.
The Vermont-based manufacturer is one of the country’s first self-declared “socially responsible” companies. Its business practices are focused on offering people avenues to express their idealism, passion and commitment to causes larger than themselves at every point along its supply chain-from suppliers and partners to shareholders, customers and Seventh Generation’s own staff.
The company derives its name from the Great Law of the Iroquois that states, “In our every deliberation, we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations.”
These savvy brands demonstrate that we are on the path to “going green”. In order to have a sustainable competitive advantage over the competition, there must be continuous process improvement to get closer to zero waste. And, it is becoming more technologically feasible to do so, but we are still light years from being sustainably “whole”.
“A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.” -Greek proverb