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Archive for the ‘sustainability’ Category

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 »

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 »

Rethink Your Impact Contest

Posted by Luke on August 31, 2010

In a previous post, I announced a contest – “ReTHINK Your Impact” –  in which any business can win an eco makeover.  We’re choosing one lucky company (a coffee shop or restaurant or other foodservice establishment) who will win free products from Eco-Products for an entire year.  That’s a lot of cups!  We’ll also assess all of their operations and suggest eco improvements, essentially giving them free sustainability consulting.  Not bad!

The other part of the contest involves us giving away three different $4,000 sustainability grants for a total of $12,000.  The grants will be applied to a cause or initiative in the selected company’s community to educate people about composting, environmental conservation, recycling, or another sustainability-related activity.

Click here to nominate your favorite coffee shop or restaurant or check it out on Facebook.  And watch this clever video…

Posted in awards, compostable products, cups, Eco-Products, event, sustainability | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Eco Entreprenuerial Idea of the Week

Posted by Luke on August 27, 2010

I love reading about entrepreneurs who creatively solve problems with sustainable business ideas.  The latest example I read about is a Minneapolis company called Eureka Recycling.  This non-profit company partnered with their city government to pilot a 1,100 residential curbside composting pickup program… using their bikes.

Eureka employees ride around with custom-built trailers attached to their bikes and pick up compostables.  Impressive!  Talk about zero emission waste hauling.  What I’m wondering, though, is how long it takes to pickup the waste from all 1,100 households.  They must make a lot of trips.  Sounds like a great job to ride your bike all day.  But what happens in winter?

Posted in composting, green jobs, innovation, sustainability | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

A Leading Example of Transparency in Sustainability

Posted by Luke on August 9, 2010

In my previous post, I talked about the role of transparency in sustainability.  One of the best examples of a company who does this is Patagonia.  Patagonia’s Footprint Chronicles allows people track the environmental impact of their products (good or bad) from product design all the way to delivery.  It’s a pretty slick interface and I encourage you to check it out.  You can see exactly where your clothes are made and what the conditions are at each of the factories.

Have you asked other clothing companies what the footprints of their items are?  I bet they don’t know the answer like Patagonia.  Being transparent helps Patagonia continue to strive for improved environmental performance while also setting a standard in the industry.

My down jacket was designed in Ventura, CA of which I can watch a video of.  The down fibers come from Hungary and I can see pictures of the origin location and conditions.  The fibers are then cleaned and processed in California before being sent to China in combination with recycled polyester for the shell.  Pictures of the factory can be viewed to witness the working conditions.  The finished product is shipped to Patagonia’s distribution center in Reno, NV.  The total process emits 7 lbs of CO2, creates 5 oz of waste, and uses 9.4 kwh of energy.

Posted in brand loyalty, China, logistics, manufacturing, shipping, 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 »

Half-Ass Hotel Greening Efforts

Posted by Luke on July 27, 2010

It’s surprising that the hotel industry doesn’t put forth more effort to be sustainable.  There are very few hotels that have sustainability as part of their core philosophy.  The Boulder Outlook Hotel is an exception.  They compost or recycle over 80% of their waste.  I only wish Boulder Outlook’s existed across the country.

Today I’m in Indiana staying in a major national hotel chain.  I walked into the lobby to check in and had an empty water bottle in my hand from the flight.  It’s 90+ degrees and humid in Indy.  I asked the front desk employee if he could recycle the bottle for me.  He looked at me as if I had two heads and said, “No, but I can throw it away for you.”  Here I am, in the heartland of middle-America, and they don’t recycle.

I get to my room and walk into the bathroom.  There I find a typical water conservation sign.

Is this sign really necessary?  Hotels like this aren’t trying to be green by conserving water.  They’re trying to save money and reduce labor expenses.  Let’s call it what it is and stop green washing guests.

I look around and see they have plastic-wrapped polystyrene cups.  On one side of the sink they are asking me to save the planet by conserving water.  On the other side they are offering non-recyclable polystyrene cups and refusing to recycle something as simple as a water bottle.

How hard would it be to put a blue bin in the room next to the trash can?  It should be illegal to not offer recycling as I mentioned in a previous post.  I’ve only found two hotels in my entire life that offer in-room recycling – the Boulder Outlook Hotel and the Sheraton Resort in Steamboat Springs, CO.

Sheraton Resort in Steamboat Springs

If anyone knows of a resource to locate green hotels and review them on their green efforts, please let me know.

Posted in Boulder, greenwashing, recycling, sustainability, zero waste | 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 »

Are Consumers Also Green Washers?

Posted by Luke on June 21, 2010

I read an article today that challenged consumers to put their money where their mouth is.  It was the first time I have heard someone call consumers more of green washers than companies. The article tries to explain how consumers in surveys claim they are buying more green products and are willing to spend more money on brands that are sustainable, but the reality is that they aren’t following through with their wallets.

On one hand, it’s an interesting argument and point to discuss.  On the other hand, I don’t buy it.  I don’t think people are green washers as individuals.  If my neighbor tells me about the energy efficient windows he just installed, I’m excited for him and also inspired by him. I don’t think for a second that he’s green washing me.  Why would he care to do that?  He has no reason to.

For companies, though, they have images to uphold.  Their products have to be better priced, higher quality, more trendy, longer lasting, more advanced, and greener than their competitors.  They have to pit themselves against other brands in a bloody-red ocean of competition and advertising noise.  They have to find some way to stand out.  And the way to stand out is often to be more green than their competitors.  For this reason, I undoubtedly think companies are more susceptible to green washing than consumers.  Consumers don’t have anyone to compete with.  Have you ever tried to out-green your next-door neighbor with the hopes of appealing more to the neighbor across the street?  No.

Believe it or not, some companies are becoming more green because they truly care about the planet.  The employees that are implementing those sustainability initiatives at those companies actually want to make a positive impact with their company’s resources.  Not to mention that having a strong sustainability program has been proven to increase employee engagement.  A large survey by Brighter Planet found that 80% of U.S. workers polled believe it’s important to work for a company that makes the environment a top priority.  What company wouldn’t want more employee engagement and greater satisfaction?

The unfortunate part in all of this, however, is that companies will continue to feel compelled to overstate their greenness.  It continues to be a deciding factor in some consumers’ buying decisions.  As such, green will continue to be a product or brand attribute that companies advertise, whether accurate or not.

Posted in brand loyalty, greenwashing, marketing, sustainability | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Sustainability Partnerships Between the Public and Private Sectors

Posted by Luke on June 15, 2010

Sustainability movements, and zero waste in particular, are most effective when there’s a partnership between the public and private sectors.  Yellowstone National Park has established one of the best examples of a public-private sector partnership I’ve ever seen.

I met Jim Evanoff from the National Parks Service last week.  Jim is one of the most senior people in the National Parks Service and manages all things environment at Yellowstone.  Yellowstone has achieved an 80% waste diversion rate through public and private partnerships.  Although Eco-Products’ foodservice items are part of the equation, there’s a lot more involved in that 80% number.

The park draws over 3.3 million visitors every year staying in 2,000 hotel rooms with a staff of 5,000 workers servicing them.  With that many people, the only way they’ve continued to increase the waste diversion rate year over year is by leveraging resources they don’t have.  For materials they couldn’t previously recycle, they built recycling systems.  For example, they worked with universities and private companies to build the first ever propane tank recycling machine.  By partnering with these organizations, they’ve created a business in and of itself that can now divert propane tanks from landfills at every campsite in the country.   Yellowstone alone now diverts 25,000 propane tanks a year.

In the communities like this in which sustainability has taken hold, there has typically been a strong collaboration between businesses and government.  Businesses can invest resources and brand equity among other things.  Governments can implement sustainability regulations and policies.  When both parties work in unison towards similar objectives, rapid progress towards systemic sustainability will occur.

Posted in innovation, sustainability, zero waste | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

 
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