eco ramblings

a dialogue with an Eco Patriot

Archive for the ‘foodservice’ Category

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.

 



Advertisements

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

Sustainability is a Journey… Part 2

Posted by Luke on June 30, 2010

A month ago I wrote a post on how sustainability is a journey.  The two main points I tried to get across were that (1) everyone defines sustainability differently and (2) sustainability isn’t something that happens overnight.  I am continually reminded of this at Eco-Products.

The challenge I face is that with a name like Eco-Products, people expect us to be the absolute, most sustainable business in the world (oh, and did I mention that everyone defines sustainability differently?).  We definitely want to be the most sustainable company possible, but it will take time.  Sustainability is a journey.

When Eco-Products built our brand of environmental products, like most young companies, we started at a sales level of nil.  We knew what we wanted to do – to green the packaging industry – but there was a long journey in front of us.  We knew we couldn’t change an industry over night.

One of the first steps we had to take in launching our brand was to find factories who were willing to bet on us.  They had to be willing to process new environmental materials on their multi-million dollar pieces of equipment.  We couldn’t tell them how much we’d be ordering because we had no idea.  Forecasting sales of a new product in a new market is nearly impossible.

These complexities narrowed down the field of potential factories very quickly.  We couldn’t find one manufacturer in the U.S. who was willing to bet on us.  The only companies who were willing to take a chance were in other parts of the world.  As we dug into this, we found that a global supply chain had some major benefits.

First, the energy used in some of the places we chose to manufacture was as clean or cleaner than in the U.S.  Second, we learned that the carbon emissions of shipping our products across the ocean was only 11% of the total carbon emissions of the product’s entire life cycle emissions.  Upon learning that, we made the commitment to invest in carbon offsets to completely offset the emissions from the transportation of our products.

Third, manufacturing in the U.S. would only yield a 1.6% improvement to our carbon footprint.  We hired BCS, Inc., an excellent independent environmental consulting firm, to do this analysis.  I was shocked at this number, but the reason it is so low is because we would have to truck products further distances which has more of a carbon impact than shipping containers on a boat that carries thousands of other products.

At the time, we didn’t have the sales volume that justified investing millions of dollars into U.S.-based manufacturing equipment (nor did we have the money), and we had to start somewhere if we wanted to green an entire industry.  Leveraging the technology and manufacturing capabilities overseas also gave us the opportunity to create nearly 50 jobs based in the U.S. at our headquarters doing sales, marketing, accounting, product development, and more.

All along, we have felt that if we could build enough critical mass we would be able to make even more meaningful changes to our carbon footprint when we could later afford to do so.  We essentially had to compromise early on.

George Siemon, the C-I-E-I-O of Organic Valley, talked about this very point in a recent interview.

“My enlightenment was to not try to do everything at once, but to build a broad, solid foundation, and then we would be able to do more of what our mission was, instead of trying to do it all at once, and failing—so we have found the happy medium. Now that we’ve reached maturity, we’ve been able to turn back and do some of the idealistic things we always felt were important.

Compromise is a part of doing business. A simple example would be we’ve hauled milk into North Carolina from Ohio and built up a business. And then we started working with farmers in North Carolina so we could start a local business. You could say it was a compromise to haul milk that far but we had market realities to address.

We’ve now reached the point where we are looking throughout the company for more opportunities to do things and invest more in sustainability.”

Eco-Products seems to be at a similar place to Organic Valley in our company’s evolution.  We have matured to the point that we are on the cusp of being able to make significant changes to our carbon footprint and invest more in sustainability.  We have had to make compromises early on to get us to that point, but we are nearly there.  And there’s no doubt that sustainability will continue to be a journey.

Posted in containers, Eco-Products, foodservice, footprint, GHG, green jobs, management, packaging, shipping, sustainability | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Green Foodservice Insight

Posted by Luke on April 18, 2010

Eco-Products publishes an industry newsletter called Green Foodservice Insight.  What I like about it is that it isn’t self-serving and really tries to provoke sustainable thinking by talking about how to green a business,  case studies, and other industry news.  It’s quick to read and always has relevant information.  Maybe I’m a little biased, but I think our Marketing Team does a great job with it.

The latest edition can be viewed here…

Posted in Eco-Products, foodservice | Leave a Comment »

Taking Action Against Companies Who Mislead Consumers

Posted by Luke on April 12, 2010

As a consumer, I often take product claims for granted assuming they are true and accurate.  After all, consumers shouldn’t have to validate product claims, right?  It’s unethical for companies to lie.  And it’s largely impractical for consumers to research claims at the point of selecting products which typically occurs in store aisles.

Unfortunately, false advertising is everywhere.  That’s particularly true as companies try to market any potential green attribute a product may have, even if it’s misleading.  That’s increasingly been the case in the foodservice packaging industry.

I recently came across a prime example of a false advertisement by a Fortune 100 company.   Georgia-Pacific, a multi-billion dollar manufacturer of some very well known consumer products, is claiming that their Dixie PerfecTouch hot cups are compostable.  That couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Catalog

PerfecTouch cups have a thick coating of polyethylene on the outside for insulation purposes.  The cups do not meet ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials) standards for compostability, nor are the cups approved by the Biodegradable Products Institute.

It’s sad that companies like this feel they have to misrepresent their products to appeal to consumers.  Consumers should know what we’re getting and get what we pay for.

Here are a couple ways to get companies like this to stop falsely advertising their products:

  • Submit a complaint to the Federal Trade Commission on the FTC website
  • File a complaint with the National Advertising Division of the Better Business Bureau.  This route is meant more for businesses to file complaints against other businesses and can be very effective.
  • Complain directly to the company misleading consumers
  • Blog.  If you know the facts, engage a discussion online
  • Tell retailers.  They are liable for misleading consumers as well if they don’t validate the claims of the  products they carry

Screenshot From GP's Website

Posted in compostable, foodservice, greenwashing, marketing | 2 Comments »

Meddling in Vancouver

Posted by Luke on February 27, 2010

With this year’s games having been the greenest ever, Eco-Products was proud to play a role.  Our cups, plates, utensils, and other products were widely used at the various venues.

Through the use of our products made from renewable resources and recycled materials, the event saved the equivalent of the following:

  • 16,216 gallons of gasoline, enough to drive a car from NYC to L.A. and back 44 times
  • 197,214 pounds of ozone-depleting greenhouse gases
  • 341 trees, approximately 2 acres of forest

Congratulations to the City of Vancouver and thanks for minimizing the event’s impact.

Posted in compostable products, event, foodservice, GHG, renewable resources, resources saved | Leave a Comment »

A Breakthrough in Cup Innovation

Posted by Luke on February 14, 2010

I want to take a minute to share a pretty big innovation Eco-Products just announced.  We successfully developed a line of a clear plastic cups made from 50% post-consumer bottles – more than two times the amount of recycled content of any cup on the market.  It’s been challenging to find the right level of post-consumer plastic while still balancing quality and price, but we think we did it. 

New Belgium Brewery in Fort Collins who is known for their sustainability efforts is one of our launch partners.  Forbes, Recycling Today, and some other noteworthy sources picked up the press release about New Belgium and Eco-Products.

Posted in foodservice, manufacturing, recycled products, RPET | Leave a Comment »

The greenest (and best) burger around

Posted by Luke on February 12, 2010

I had a meeting with the manager of Larkburger today in Boulder to talk about product design (Eco-Products tries to involve our customers in our product design process).  Larkburger is a fantastic example of how zero waste is possible in quick-casual and fast food.  They compost virtually everything.  The only thing that gets thrown away are the condiment packets which are typically taken out of the restaurant anyway.  Not to mention they use organic food and have the best burgers and shakes around.  They are expanding rapidly throughout Colorado and other states.  Green is part of their brand and mission and it has really paid off for them. 

Time for dinner…

Posted in compostable products, foodservice, zero waste | Leave a Comment »

Recap from the U.S. Composting Council Annual Conference

Posted by Luke on February 2, 2010

I spent most of last week in Orlando at the U.S. Composting Council’s annual conference.  The organization continues to grow and the conferences seem to get better every year.  There were a few trends and pieces of news worthy of sharing that seemed to be apparent at the conference.

  • Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection has committed to diverting 75% of their waste by 2020.  Wow, that’s a lofty goal – the highest of any state and 2.5 times their current diversion rate.  That’s a ripe market for business opportunities in waste management.
  • In talking with composters, they continue to struggle with contamination of plastics.  Currently, there isn’t a good universal symbol that allows for easily identifying compostable products.  BPI’s symbol is the only third-party certification available.  However, it’s not federally regulated or required on compostable products and it’s not the easily identifiable symbol that composters are looking for to know what is compostable and what isn’t.  Frankly, I don’t think there is a symbol out there because you can’t use a color to indicate compostability.  Big brands won’t go for it and you can’t make some products/packaging/materials in colors.  I’ll talk more about this issue in an upcoming post. 
  • Polyethylene coated paper hot cups are accepted into the City of San Francisco’s composting program, but they aren’t ASTM D6400 or D6868 certified, so technically they aren’t “biodegradable” or “compostable.”  This further complicates the labeling dilemma in the previous bullet.
  • The FTC is cracking down more on misleading claims of biodegradability and they’ll continue to do so.  This goes for both product manufacturers and retailers.  Retailers need to do their homework as well, not just trust what manufacturers say.
  • There needs to be a better link between food waste generators (i.e. restaurants) and composters.  Restaurants struggle to find a way to get their organic waste to composters and composters don’t have the hauling logistics.  This often requires a third party hauler.  On a similar note, if you want to locate a compost facility near you, go to www.findacomposter.com
  • The Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI) run by Steve Mojo is a great organization.  Steve works his ass off to make this world a better place.  Thanks Steve!

Posted in biodegradable, compostable, compostable products, composting, event, foodservice, greenwashing, zero waste | Leave a Comment »

Compostable Sun Chip Bags

Posted by Luke on January 26, 2010

Direct from the US Compousting Council Conference in Orlando…

If you haven’t seen Frito Lays’ advertising for their new renewable and compostable Sun Chips bags, here it is…

 

These bags are a nice step towards more sustainable food packaging, and it’s nice to see such a large brand owner leading the charge which will surely drive more companies this direction.

Posted in biodegradable, compostable, composting, foodservice | Leave a Comment »

 
%d bloggers like this: