eco ramblings

a dialogue with an Eco Patriot

Archive for the ‘environmental products’ Category

Do you really need oil in your paper cup?

Posted by Luke on October 15, 2010

Here’s a great little video that our talented creative team produced.  Most people don’t realize that the majority of paper cups are lined with plastic made from oil.

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Posted in compostable products, corn, cups, environmental products, hot cups, innovation, plastics, renewable resources, Video, World Art Cups | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Letting Perception Get Ahead of Reality

Posted by Luke on October 6, 2010

I don’t deny that BP undoubtedly failed to take the proper precautions with their deep-water drilling activities.  But I also believe that BP’s downfall was exponentially worse due to their exceptional marketing efforts.  Beyond Petroleum. It was one of the most successful green rebranding campaigns in recent history.  A company that derived over 99% of their revenue from petroleum changed their brand to represent that they derive revenue from nothing but renewable sources.  They completely and utterly mislead consumers into thinking they were better than petroleum.

I admit it.  I was fooled.  Their advertisements of how they invested in renewable energy…  their contributions to social causes…  their green logo…  it seemed legit.  I didn’t do any research, but they were definitely saying the right things.  The problem, though, was that they let the perception of their brand get too far ahead of reality.  They were advertising nothing but green, but they were doing everything but green.

I’ve increasingly witnessed companies in my industry deploying similar tactics.  More than 99% of the products some of our competitors produce (by volume) are made from petroleum.  They are made from the oil that is derived from deep-water rigs.  And even while the nation watched oil gush into the Gulf, those companies continued green washing customers by touting their single green product line.  In fact, some even stepped up their green marketing during that time.  Most people prayed that the oil would stop gushing while these companies kept sucking oil from our earth’s core.

There’s one company in particular that has crossed the line in my mind.  I’ll refrain from stating the company’s name at this point (maybe in a future post I’ll take off my gloves).  This company recently launched a line of green products after 5 years of watching from the sidelines.  However, even while they launched these products, they still promoted their polystyrene foam products as being a great environmental choice.  They are talking out of both sides of their mouth.  They say two completely contradictory statements hoping that they’ll appeal to customers in some way, shape or form.

“We believe polystyrene foam has an excellent carbon footprint compared to PLA.  Buy foam if you want to be green.”

“We just launched a line of sustainable products made from PLA.  They meet the evolving needs of green customers and are less harmful on the environment.  Choose us when you want green”

I kid you not.  That is basically what that company is saying.  It’s shocking, really.  This reminds me of BP because they are letting perception get ahead of reality. They are promoting themselves as greener than they actually are. That won’t last forever though.

My advice to this, anonymous company:  Get 3rd party data that supports your claims.  Consumers aren’t going to allow themselves to be green washed forever.  We”ll let it happen once or twice, but we’ll get smart after that.  There’s a new wave of green coming.  And that wave involves a deeper understanding of what green actually is and making sure companies back up their claims.  Get ready for Green 2.0.  I’ll talk more about that in a future post.

 



Posted in brand loyalty, BS, environmental products, foodservice, greenwashing, management, marketing, Pactiv | 1 Comment »

An O.G., and I’m Not Referring to Snoop Dogg

Posted by Luke on September 28, 2010

As a rebellious kid, I listened to explicit hip-hop despite my parents’ wishes.  For those who can relate, you’ll remember the term “O.G.”  I can’t say that I ever actually wanted to be an O.G. (Original Gangster), but that was what young punks like me thought was cool.  Well, now I can claim association with an O.G., but this time I’m not referring to Snoop Dogg’s posse.  I’m referring to Original Greenies.

When Eco-Products was founded in 1990, we were the first business-to-business distributor in the nation solely of environmental products.  And we were also the first company in our industry to sell nothing but green products.  Friday is Eco-Products’ 20th anniversary. Relative to the packaging industry as a whole, we haven’t been around as long as some.  But relative to the green movement, Eco-Products was one of the originals.  That is a hell of an accomplishment.  I think all of this qualifies us as being an O.G.  We have been green-blooded from the start.  We were green before green was a commonly used term.

What’s exciting about this to me is that we’ve strengthened our commitment to sustainability even more as time has passed.  We’ve invested in carbon offsets, pushed the boundaries of what is the norm for materials used in packaging products, paid employees to carpool or ride bikes, and invested heavily in our overall corporate sustainability.  During the recent economic downturn when our industry was in decline, we hired a full time employee as our “Sustainability Maven” to do nothing but measure and improve our sustainability practices.  We could have hired a sales person instead to drive more sales, or we could have not hired anyone at all and just pocketed the money.  But that’s not what our mission is.  We believed that if we did even more to be sustainable it would pay dividends to our triple bottom line – people, planet and profits – in the long run.

When I write blog posts, there’s a fine line I find myself walking between bragging about all of the cool things that Eco-Products is doing and trying not to make this a nothing-but-Eco-Products blog.  The only way readers will get value from this blog is if it talks about broader sustainability topics.  However, right now, I’m bragging about my company.  I’m proud of Eco-Products.  We are committed to our mission, and it’s exciting to be part of a company that truly is driving change in such a massive industry.  You can read more about the history of how Steve Savage and his father Kent started the company in their garage here…

I’ll leave you with Ice T’s song “Original Gangster” from 1991… oh, I remember when I used to own that album.

Posted in awards, Eco-Products, environmental products, green products, manufacturing, sustainability | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Role of “Radical Transparency” in Sustainability

Posted by Luke on August 4, 2010

I’ve written a lot about how everyone defines sustainability differently.  Jeffrey Hollender, the Chief Inspired Protagonist of Seventh Generation, addressed this topic at the World Innovation Forum in June.  “You can’t judge your own level of sustainability or responsibility, you can only be judged by others,” Hollender said.  To demonstrate this, Seventh Generation published a list on their website of everything that was bad about their products.  They felt that being completely transparent was the best way to make improvements over the long run.  They saw this transparency pay off because it caused their customers to ask Seventh Generation’s competitors for their respective lists, of which they didn’t have.

Although at Eco-Products we haven’t yet published a list of what is bad about our products, it’s probably in our near future.  We have attempted to take a similar approach to Seventh Generation in being transparent, and we are investing more than we ever have in understanding the entire environmental impact of our products from cradle to grave.  We acknowledge that we aren’t perfect.  After all, “perfect” sustainability is subjective and is a never-ending journey.  However, we are diligent about lessening our impact and being transparent with our customers along the way.  In fact, we created a new position at our company called a Sustainability Maven to continuously assess how our decisions impact the environment.  And we are investing in many other ways to better communicate our impact to our customers.  The key question that every business person has to ask, “Do customers care and will they put their money behind it?”  Based on my experience in the natural products industry, my response is an absolute “Yes.”

Posted in brand loyalty, Eco-Products, environmental products, footprint, greenwashing, marketing, sustainability | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Debate Over How To Label Compostable Products

Posted by Luke on July 12, 2010

I’ve been involved in the debate over having a standardized label for compostable products for several years now.  Many composting facilities and other industry stakeholders believe that creating a standardized label to indicate a product is compostable would solve the problems of contamination.  And the label they want standardized across all products is a printed green band.  The truth of the matter, though, is that contamination levels would only decrease a very small amount, but the composting industry as a whole would suffer tremendously.

The Biodegradable Products Institute is the leading body for verifying a product is compostable

The Sustainable Packaging Coalition recently released a report that includes results of a survey of 40 industrial compost facilities.  82.5% of those facilities think the biggest opportunity for improvement is a standardized label for compostable products.  They have a hard time knowing what is compostable and what isn’t.  I see their point.  A clear PLA cup looks just like a clear PET cup.  There’s more to it than that though.

72.5% of the survey respondents said that accepting compostable packaging allows them to increase their total food waste tonnage.  Accepting these products improve the outcome of the overall composting program.  If we require a label on compostable packaging, it will present obstacles to manufacturers of these products and deter them from making the products in the first place (more on this below).  Based on the results of the survey, if compostable products aren’t widespread, food waste composting programs will decrease.  These products are critical to drive total food waste diversion from landfills.  That means that the composting industry will take several steps backwards if compostable products become less widespread.

Most of the standardized labeling talk is around requiring a green stripe.  The problem is that a green stripe isn’t possible to print on the majority of products.  It’s possible on cups, but it can’t be printed on a disposable fork.  It can’t be printed on most food containers.  Actually, I take that back.  It could be printed on those items, but the cost of the items would quadruple.  Then people would complain about the product manufacturers charging too much.  This is what I meant above when I said that requiring a label would deter manufacturers from producing these products because it would significantly drive up their production costs (by 2-4 times).

Second, major brands aren’t going to get behind a green stripe.  Can you imagine a compostable Coca-Cola cup with a green stripe on it?  It doesn’t jive with their red brand look and feel unless it’s Christmas.  I can’t see them or other brands getting behind this.  Competing brands don’t want to look like each other and a green stripe would create too much unison between competitors.  If big brands don’t get behind it, the likelihood of it succeeding is slim to none.

Let’s Take a Lesson from the Recycling Industry

Similar to the composting industry, the recycling industry has faced the challenge of contamination for decades.  Recyclers struggle with contamination because people put every type of plastic container in the recycling bin.  Most people think that just because a piece of plastic has a recycling symbol on the bottom of it that it can be recycled.  Unfortunately, that’s not correct.  The recycling symbol is very misleading on packaging.  39 states require that all plastic products have a recycling symbol with the number indicating what type of resin it’s made from.  It has nothing to do with the recyclability.

As a result, all plastic products have recycling symbols on them even though they aren’t all accepted by recycling facilities.  Virtually the only products that are widely recycled when they reach the recycling facility are #1 and #2 bottles.  All other products (salad containers, produce containers, etc.) aren’t recycled at 95% of the recycling facilities in the country  The reason is because the companies who buy the recycled materials buy them in compressed bales.  If they know the bales only consist of bottles, they know what they’re getting.  If the bales contain various other types of containers, they don’t know what type of resin they are buying.  Most recycling facilities don’t have optical sorting technology to sort between various types of resins.

I draw the comparison to the recycling industry because they haven’t been successful in creating a standardized label, so why would the composting industry have any different of an outcome, especially when most stakeholders want the label to be a green stripe which is feasibly impossible to print on the majority of product shapes?

Here’s My Solution…

The only standardized label that I see as working is requiring compostable products to have the word “COMPOSTABLE” embossed on the product.  Since a resin symbol has to be embossed anyway to denote the type of material, it’s not difficult to also emboss the word “COMPOSTABLE.”  That precludes anything about color, so it shouldn’t upset big brands.  It also works with existing manufacturing processes, so there shouldn’t be an increase in the cost of production.  It would be up to the FTC and other industry bodies to regulate that any product claimed as compostable has ASTM D6400 certification and verification from the Biodegradable Products Institute.

The problem we return to, though, is that an embossed word isn’t as clearly recognizable to compost sorters as a color (I didn’t say my solution was perfect).  This leads me to believe that another solution is improved screening technology at composting facilities which would allow plastic contamination to be screened out and removed from the inbound organic waste.  I know that’s costly and we can’t expect composters to invest in that equipment on their own overnight.

All of this goes hand-in-hand with the need for educating the general public about what is compostable and what isn’t.  This will take time.  The recycling industry still struggles with this after several decades.

A Note to Industry Groups Trying to Solve This Issue… Let’s Not All Separately Try to be Heroes

There are several different industry groups trying to come up with their own solutions.  The worrisome part is that they aren’t communicating with each to develop a unified vision.  I just hope one of those groups doesn’t try to strong-arm a policy into effect without thinking through all of the various angles.  That would, ultimately, hinder the growth of compostable products and the composting industry.

Posted in bottles, compostable, compostable products, composting, containers, cups, environmental products, foodservice, packaging, recycling, RPET | Tagged: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Free Product for a Year or a $4,000 Grant for Your Community

Posted by Luke on May 19, 2010

Eco-Products just announced a really incredible contest – Rethink Your Impact contest.  We are giving away free product to a business for an entire year and three $4,000 grants to a businesses’ local community.  Restaurants, coffee shops, and other businesses can self-nominate or they can have their customers nominate them.  Imagine winning free product for a year or winning the opportunity to give a $4,000 grant to a meaningful cause in your local community.  Pretty impactful.

Free Product for a Year

We want to give a restaurant, coffee shop, or other business a green makeover.  If you’ve been considering going green, but aren’t sure where to start or if you can afford it, we’ll give you the resources.  The will be challenged to show why their business is deserving of the makeover which includes a full line of Eco-Products made from renewable and recycled resources.  Well provide educational materials, including signage and training for staff to exhibit that show how simple choices, such as which cups you use, really add up.  We’ll also help you setup a composting and recycling program.

$4,000 Grant for Your Community

For businesses currently using Eco-Products, win a triple-shot of grants designed to spread your positive impact throughout your community. Over the course of a year, you’ll work with Eco-Products to plan three grant programs (valued at $4000.00 each) that will improve access to or educate your community about sustainable and eco-friendly choices. We’ll be looking for initiatives like supporting a composting program for your town’s Farmer’s Market, helping fund a recycling program for a school, promoting a clean-up of your local downtown park, or setting up a community garden. Eco-Products will work with you to create the best program for the most positive impact in your local area.

For more information, visit the Rethink Your Impact web page.

Posted in awards, composting, Eco-Products, environmental products, event | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

 
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