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a dialogue with an Eco Patriot

Archive for the ‘management’ 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.

 



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

Sustainability In Flight, Literally

Posted by Luke on September 22, 2010

The concept of sustainability has evolved drastically over the past several years.  At first, only the eco pioneers embraced sustainability initiatives.  They felt it was the right thing to do.  Then, consumers started asking companies to be more environmental.  In response, corporations began implementing surface-level sustainability initiatives without any real roots.  This evolved into companies realizing that robust sustainability programs can actually save energy which means lower costs.  All the while, consumers have continued demanding companies to go green, but now they really mean it.  Companies need to do more than implement just surface-level green tactics.

This evolution has led many companies to launch green product lines.  It has also spurred the launch of entire companies that make nothing but green products.  Now in nearly every industry, consumers can find at least one company that is completely and totally dedicated to sustainability, a company that doesn’t offer conventional products.  Method offers nothing but non-toxic cleaners.  Credo Mobile has built a mobile phone service based on the triple bottom line.  The Green Garage only offers environmental car repair services.  New Leaf Paper only makes high recycled content paper.  Eco-Products only makes environmental packaging.  And the list goes on… except for one industry.

The one major industry that has still not yet demonstrated that they embrace sustainability in the least bit is the airline industry.  One of my biggest pet peeves is when a flight attendant walks down the aisle to gather the trash at the end of the flight and everything goes into one bag.  The cans, the plastic bottles, the newspapers and the garbage all gets sent to a landfill.  I start twitching when I see it happen.

Airplanes are like national forest land.  You have to pack out what you pack in if you want to recycle.

In 2005, 86% of the U.S. population had access to curbside recycling programs.  That means that all of those flight attendants who throw recyclables in the trash probably recycle at home, or at least have access to recycling. However, collectively, they have failed to find a way to recycle in-flight waste even though most airports now recycle in the terminals.  It doesn’t make sense to me.  Isn’t it illegal to throw plastic bottles into the trash in some states like North Carolina and others?  How do airlines get away with it?

Sadly, recycling is the easiest way to be green, but it still doesn’t occur.  Time Magazine had a great article on in-flight recycling with some pretty astounding stats:

  • The average amount of waste generated per passenger per flight is 1.3 lbs
  • 58 Boeing 747’s could be built each year from the aluminum cans discarded by U.S. airlines

And recycling is just the tip of the iceberg.  With as much fuel as the industry burns, wouldn’t you think that they’d work harder to find more environmental and cost-effective alternatives like biofuels?  Yet, it hasn’t happened.  The only group working on biofuels to my knowledge is Alaska Airlines and they already have the most fuel efficient fleet.  Way to go Alaska!

In most industries you have companies trying to green wash consumers to win them over.  Not in the airline industry.  You don’t even find airlines trying to green wash consumers.  Does that mean that they just don’t care at all?  It doesn’t appear they are taking any steps to become more sustainable.  Southwest is the only airline I’ve seen with a clearly stated sustainability program.  Good job LUV.

The entrepreneur in me is wondering if this presents an opportunity.  Consumers have demonstrated that they’ll pay more for products that are sustainable.  Would they pay more for an airline that demonstrates sustainability?  Would you fly a certain airline more if their sustainability values were in line with yours?  Better yet, if there was an airline dedicated to nothing but green – call it the Seventh Generation of the airline industry – would you pay more to fly with them?

I guess until that hypothetical green airline is launched, all we have to work with is this solar plane.  I bet they recycle.

Posted in brand loyalty, greenwashing, management, recycling, sustainability | Tagged: , , , | 4 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 »

The Top 11 Things I Love About My Job Right Now

Posted by Luke on June 17, 2010

In no particular order…

11.  We play E-C-O (our version of H-O-R-S-E) on the basketball hoop in the parking lot when we need a break.  When the founder, Steve, started on a winning streak, we banned him from wearing his lucky Michael Jordan jersey.

10.  Who wouldn’t love your job when you get paid to commute?  Eco-Products gives the 26% of the employees who bike, walk, bus, carpool, or drive a hybrid to work in aggregate of over $15,000 every year for using alternative forms of transportation.

9.  Our Marketing & Graphics team completely floored me today with some new product artwork they are working on.  I felt like a kid in a candy shop.  I was so giddy with excitement I actually caught myself drooling.  Not kidding.

8.  I learn something new everyday.  Today I learned that our Customer Care Manager, Mary, is now a beekeeper as of 3 weeks ago.

This isn't Mary, but I thought it was a funny picture. Why is he smiling?

7.  There’s nothing like working with people who make you laugh.  We just hired an incredibly talented, and funny, person to manage national account sales.  He kept me laughing the past couple days when we traveled together to North Carolina.

6.  My 10-month old daughter loves our cups.  It makes her happy that I’m looking out for the planet.

5.  Everyday I have the privilege of learning from one of the greatest CEOs to ever run a company.  That’s not me kissing ass.  That’s the truth.

4.  Friday goodies!  Every Friday a manager brings in breakfast for everyone.  Yummmmmm

3.  We truly have some of the best and the brightest people in the industry.  I’m convinced our sales team is more educated and knowledgeable than any sales team in the country.

2.  For the company’s summer party, we rented a bus and are taking all of our employees and spouses to watch the Colorado Rockies game tonight.

1.  I truly feel like I’m making a difference everyday.

Posted in Eco-Products, management | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

Sustainability is a Journey

Posted by Luke on May 26, 2010

Sustainability initiatives often draw a certain degree of skepticism.  When a company tries to be sustainable, there is often a line of skeptics challenging its claims and pushing them to be even more green.  It’s consumers’ jobs to push companies to challenge themselves and to do the right thing.  Sustainability wouldn’t happen if we weren’t asking companies to change their environmental impact.  In doing this, though, it’s important to acknowledge a couple key points about sustainability:

  1. Sustainability is a journey
  2. Everyone defines sustainability differently

I often come across people who expect companies to be sustainable overnight.  It just doesn’t happen like that.  If you know how to become sustainable overnight, email me.  We should talk.  From my experience, sustainability requires a change in behaviors and a change in resource allocation.  It’s often a culture shift.  It takes time.  And most companies are resource constrained.  So if a company has developed a solid vision for sustainability and has a plan to execute that vision, it deserves some breathing room to begin down the path.

Another key piece to this is that there are so many different definitions of sustainability.  Everybody has their own definition – within a company or outside of a company.  What is sustainable to one customer might be completely different to another.  This means that companies end up making some customers happy and some not.  In my mind, it all comes back to the need for defining sustainability within your company’s boundaries.  Customers need to know how you view sustainability and what your plan is.  Their expectations need to be brought in line with yours.  Sustainability is a journey.  And a very long journey at that.  Here is an excerpt from an interesting article that elaborates more on this topic:

Perhaps the biggest change will come with the realization that we can never be fully “sustainable” – that sustainability is a never ending journey, a learning process to explore what it means to be fully human in an interconnected world.

Sustainability, from this perspective, is systemic.  It begins when we are able to understand our place in a web of economic, social, cultural and ecological systems – relationships that have always been there but that we have ignored in our single minded focus for profit and economic growth.  It encourages diversity as a key condition for a viable system, and embraces the responsibility to live in ways that allow others to live as well.  Sustainability involves waking up and assuming our personal and collective power as leaders to shape our present and our future. It signals the time to stop the consumerism machine that has dictated what we should have or desire. It is a call to start listening to ourselves, to engage in deep conversations to understand and honor what brings meaning and joy to our lives, and to pay attention to the way we affect and are affected in everything we do.

Posted in management, sustainability | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Welcome to 30. Now What?

Posted by Luke on March 17, 2010

I celebrated my 30th birthday on Monday.  In some sick way, I was actually looking forward to turning 30.  As I blew out the candles on my cake, my wife frantically paced around the kitchen having a mild panic attack knowing that me turning 30 meant she was only 3 months away from forever departing with her 20’s (her birthday is in June).  But I felt different.  Being a 20-something year old COO, I always knew I was smart enough for the job.  However, I sort of felt like a 20-year old trying to get into a bar with a fake ID.  I felt like I needed to be a certain age to validate what I was doing.  I’ve come to find out that the bar I’ve been trying to get into was an 18-and-over bar and the false sense of validity I felt like I needed had nothing to do with my age.

I’m in a typical ‘good-ole-boys’ industry where the longer you’re in it, the more respect you feel you deserve and typically get.  I meet people who proudly tell me they’ve been selling foodservice packaging longer than I’ve been alive.  Impressive, I think.  I have a deep sense of respect for people who have incredible knowledge and have experienced a lot.  There’s no question about that.  However, it’s not a person’s age that dictates the respect I give.  It’s the scope of his knowledge, the nature of his experience, and how he carries himself.

Not having as many scars from working in the same field for decades, I am still naive enough to think I can drive major industry change.  I’m naive enough to think I can out-innovate and out-maneuver those who have grown accustomed to operating in a routine fashion for years.  Until my naivety expires, which I hope never happens, I’m going to keep trying to do that.

What’s great about the era we live in is that anyone can do anything at any age.  PGA Tour youngan Zach Johnson hadn’t won a PGA tournament before he won the 2007 Masters, the most prestigious tournament in golf.  In fact, he wasn’t even the top player on the Drake golf team when he was in college, a school not known for golf.  As in Zach’s case, experience definitely would have helped, but it’s not a defining attribute of his capabilities.  The same holds true for young professionals, or industry veterans for that matter.

So until I become one of the ‘good ole boys,’ my hypothesis for my next decade is that what matters as much as a person’s age and experience is the ability for a person to learn quickly, adapt to changes, carry himself with a humble confidence, and have resources who can help point to the right answers.  I’ll let you know how my hypothesis proves out.

Posted in management | 1 Comment »

 
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