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How to interpret eco labels

The SSC Team March 9, 2017 Tags: , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

 

SSC President, Jennifer Woofter, was quoted in an article in Recyclebank about how to better understand eco labels on products in order to make wiser product choices.  This is what Jennifer had to say:

“There is a lot of confusion in the marketplace about which certifications are credible and which are fluff. Shoppers who do want to choose environmentally friendly products are throwing their hands up and saying ‘How do I choose?’”

A major cause for confusion is the broad scope of the labels. Jennifer adds, "...labels are applied in roughly three ranges: by product, by company, and by facility. When we see a label on a product, we understandably assume that the label says something about the product, but that’s not always the case. For example, a pint of ice cream might have a B Corps seal, but that doesn’t mean that specific pint of ice cream is sustainable. That’s because a B Corps certification applies to the entire company, not its products. A certified B Corps company has met the threshold for responsible business as defined by B Lab, the 501(c)3 nonprofit that developed and assesses B Corps standards."

Read the entire article in Recyclebank here.

Interested in sustainability strategies in product packaging?  Read our white paper, Cut the Wrap! Packaging Waste and Strategies for Mitigation and Reduction.

 

Can ‘fast fashion’ and sustainability exist in the same world?

The SSC Team October 11, 2016 Tags: , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

From Levi’s to Target to Eileen Fisher to Nike to H&M, the conversation is suddenly all about recycling. And it’s about time they got serious about that. 

“It’s been estimated that the global apparel industry generates as much as $2.5 trillion in annual revenue and that it will double in the next decade. What’s more, despite efforts to collect old clothes by retailers and nonprofits such as Goodwill Industries, the overwhelming majority of items eventually wind up in landfills, at least in the U.S. Americans dispose of about 12.8 million tons of textiles annually, which amounts to about 80 pounds for each man, woman and child, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimated.”

Those are some pretty eye-opening statistics about the impact “fast fashion” is having on our environment.

It’s good to finally see companies looking both at increasing lifespan, slowing down the cultural speed of consumerism and disposal, and now, finally, looking at meaningful ways to recycle textile products.

Which direction do you think will have the most positive impact on the environment: changing consumer behaviors and pushing less buying and disposing, or changing product life cycles? Let us know in the comments.

Best of the Blog for August 2016

The SSC Team August 30, 2016 Tags: , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Each month, we highlight some of our more popular content on the SSC blog!

In case you missed them, here's a round-up of our most popular blog posts from this past month. These are the articles that received the most attention from our online audience. Check them out! 

  1. The Most Important Skill for Sustainability Professionals
  2. The Importance of a Personal Sustainability Project
  3. TED Talks Sustainability: How Trees Talk to Each Other
  4. Turning a Profit on Sustainability: Are Target, Ikea, and Nike just Greenwashing 2.0?
  5. Jennifer Woofter Answers: Does it Matter Where Your Sustainability Firm is Located? 

If you like an article, please consider sharing it online via your favorite social media platform. Helping us grow our audience is the #1 way you can show your support for the work that we do.

The Secret to Getting a Green Premium

The SSC Team August 2, 2016 Tags: , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Enjoy this post from the SSC archives

There has been a lot of talk lately about whether or not customers are willing to pay more for green products. And just like any kind of market research, you can usually find a study to support whatever theory you're currently promoting.  

For example, in August 2013, an article from Sustainable Brands proclaimed, “50% of Global Consumers Willing to Pay More for Socially Responsible Products”. Just a few months earlier, a Harris Interactive poll said that, “78% of U.S. consumers were already buying products specifically because of their social or environmental profile”.

Not so fast. There are a number of articles that argue the opposite -- that consumers are NOT willing to pay a price premium for so-called "green" products. In September 2012, an Advertising Age article noted, “As More Marketers Go Green, Fewer Consumers Willing to Pay For It”. And perhaps most compelling, P&G's CEO flat out declared that, “consumers aren't willing to pay a green premium,” in a video hosted by the Wall Street Journal.

Why the disconnect? Turns out the devil is in the details -- it's the difference between what consumers SAY and what they really DO. Here's an excerpt from No, Consumers Will Not Pay More for Green:

“Consumers will consistently tell surveys that they are willing to pay more for socially and environmentally superior products…A major utility company, for example, surveyed rate payers asking if they would pay a small premium for ‘green electricity.’ The response was overwhelmingly ‘Yes!’ However, when the product was offered, fewer than 5% actually signed up.”

 This leaves companies in a bit of a conundrum. How do you get consumers to pony up extra money for green products? This issue is important for many reasons--innovation can be expensive, and paying better wages for laborers and higher margins for raw materials can seriously impact the profitability of a product or product line. 

So how do you do it? 

The secret might be in how you talk about the sustainability or the "green-ness" of your product or service. It's not enough to spout out key statistics or throw an eco-label on the packaging. New research suggests that it's all in the story. 

In her article, Want to Raise Prices? Tell a Better Story, Francesca Fenzi shares insight about consumer purchasing practices.  “As a business owner, you probably believe that quality is what drives consumers to buy your product. Certainly, superior execution and customer service go a long way toward making your business a success.”

Ty Monague, author of True Story: How to Combine Story and Action to Transform Your Businessbelieves that customers will pay more for a good story.  Take, for example, a 2006 experiment by New York Times magazine columnist, Rob Walker, which tested a hypothesis that stories sold products. Writers were asked to create a story that evoked human interest to accompany a handful of cheap items worth less than $5 each, such as a wooden mallet, a lost hotel key, a plastic banana. He put the objects up for sale on Ebay with the narratives- and was surprised by the results. “On average, the value of the objects rose 2,700 percent,’"wrote Montague. 

Maybe the reason that today's eco-conscious products have trouble commanding a price premium is because their social and environmental stories are communicated poorly--or worse, not at all. Unless the consumer can make a human connection to the story behind the product, it's likely going to remain at a price disadvantage and fighting it out with other traditional products in a competitive marketplace.

So the next time you think about green products--whether you are buying them or selling them--consider whether the story has been crafted in a way to appeal to your values, your history, or your humanity. Are you more willing to shell out a couple extra bucks to be part of that story?  Leave us a comment or join the conversation on Twitter!

Turning a Profit on Sustainability: Are Target, Ikea, Nike, and Unilever Just Engaging in Greenwashing 2.0?

The SSC Team July 19, 2016 Tags: , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

For the past few years, global consultancies GlobeScan and SustainAbility have surveyed 900 sustainability professionals to evaluate which companies have best integrated sustainability into their corporate strategy.

Not surprising, Unilever held the top spot again for the sixth straight year for its leading-edge sustainability performance and strategy. Joining Unilever on the list were a number of high profile consumer brands, like Patagonia, IKEA, Tesla, Coca-Cola, and Nike, among others.

These companies, and others including Target, Whole Foods, and GE, are making loads of money through their sales of legitimately sustainable products and/or practices.

But let’s not put them on a pedestal just yet. Just because a company is strategic, and just because a billion-dollar portion of their income comes from sustainably produced products, does not mean they are even close to being truly sustainable – with sustainability defined as mitigating the social and environmental effects of their business operations throughout the entire product life cycle, from corporate management, to production, waste, distribution, operations, and disposal.

There are a number of the problems in confusing sustainable products with sustainable companies.

First, there are the temporal tradeoffs in sustainability.

Second, there is the idea that segmenting a business from its products, and declaring that business sustainable is somehow possible. Holding up organizations against a better framework of measure is needed, and providing more transparency on sustainability metrics should be mandated to help educate consumers, not just market to them.

Similar to the recent changes in the nutritional labeling practices to educate consumers on their actual sugar consumption, the emergence of a better way than a “survey of how sustainability consultants feel” or even jargon-filled GRI reports buried on a corporate website, needs to become the norm.

Certifying organizations need to talk about what percentage of a business must be sustainable for the entire organization to be considered sustainable. Can companies make chemicals for agriculture that help reduce water, and chemicals for warfare and still be considered sustainable? Can a manufacturer make one line of sustainable home goods, yet deliver products with a 3-year lifespan and no ability to be recycled and still be sustainable? Can a retail outlet sell reusable water bottles and Styrofoam cups in the same store and still be considered a model for consumer sustainability?

In the end, we know as sustainability consultants and professionals that, even though Unilever is the model for integration of sustainable practices in their business, and even though we love what Patagonia and IKEA and others are doing to make meaningful changes for environmental and social good, we are a long way from true “sustainability.”

Many of these consumer brands continue to capitalize on the consumer desire for “green” products, and are still pushing the cyclical, disposable, must-have-the-latest-trend consumerist behaviors that result in waste.  

Unless an organization is net zero or net negative, then it really cannot be considered “sustainable.” And as consultants, professionals, marketers, and executives, if we continue to pat each other on the back too loudly for our sustainable milestones, or sustainable strategies, or sustainable product lines, we may confuse consumers into believing our work is nearly finished. 

Turning a Profit on Sustainability: Are Target, Ikea, Nike, and Unilever Just Engaging in Greenwashing 2.0?

The SSC Team July 19, 2016 Tags: , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

For the past few years, global consultancies GlobeScan and SustainAbility have surveyed 900 sustainability professionals to evaluate which companies have best integrated sustainability into their corporate strategy.

Not surprising, Unilever held the top spot again for the sixth straight year for its leading-edge sustainability performance and strategy. Joining Unilever on the list were a number of high profile consumer brands, like Patagonia, IKEA, Tesla, Coca-Cola, and Nike, among others.

These companies, and others including Target, Whole Foods, and GE, are making loads of money through their sales of legitimately sustainable products and/or practices.

But let’s not put them on a pedestal just yet. Just because a company is strategic, and just because a billion-dollar portion of their income comes from sustainably produced products, does not mean they are even close to being truly sustainable – with sustainability defined as mitigating the social and environmental effects of their business operations throughout the entire product life cycle, from corporate management, to production, waste, distribution, operations, and disposal.

There are a number of the problems in confusing sustainable products with sustainable companies.

First, there are the temporal tradeoffs in sustainability.

Second, there is the idea that segmenting a business from its products, and declaring that business sustainable is somehow possible. Holding up organizations against a better framework of measure is needed, and providing more transparency on sustainability metrics should be mandated to help educate consumers, not just market to them.

Similar to the recent changes in the nutritional labeling practices to educate consumers on their actual sugar consumption, the emergence of a better way than a “survey of how sustainability consultants feel” or even jargon-filled GRI reports buried on a corporate website, needs to become the norm.

Certifying organizations need to talk about what percentage of a business must be sustainable for the entire organization to be considered sustainable. Can companies make chemicals for agriculture that help reduce water, and chemicals for warfare and still be considered sustainable? Can a manufacturer make one line of sustainable home goods, yet deliver products with a 3-year lifespan and no ability to be recycled and still be sustainable? Can a retail outlet sell reusable water bottles and Styrofoam cups in the same store and still be considered a model for consumer sustainability?

In the end, we know as sustainability consultants and professionals that, even though Unilever is the model for integration of sustainable practices in their business, and even though we love what Patagonia and IKEA and others are doing to make meaningful changes for environmental and social good, we are a long way from true “sustainability.”

Many of these consumer brands continue to capitalize on the consumer desire for “green” products, and are still pushing the cyclical, disposable, must-have-the-latest-trend consumerist behaviors that result in waste.  

Unless an organization is net zero or net negative, then it really cannot be considered “sustainable.” And as consultants, professionals, marketers, and executives, if we continue to pat each other on the back too loudly for our sustainable milestones, or sustainable strategies, or sustainable product lines, we may confuse consumers into believing our work is nearly finished. 

Don’t Insult Employees With Sustainability “Nudges”

The SSC Team May 19, 2016 Tags: , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Just a few years ago, everyone seemed to have a signature block pleading for the trees – “Don’t print this e-mail for our planet” or “Think before printing this email.”

And then those tree-loving messages mostly disappeared.

Marketing and behavioral research may be indicating that “nudge” marketing, or deliberately manipulating choices to change behavior, may backfire.

Nudges can be condescending If your employees need to print a report, then they need to print the report. Using an email signature line to signal to one another that individuals aren’t capable or committed enough to make green choices without constant reminders can come off as condescending and put employees on the defensive about sustainability communications.

Even when nudges “work,” they may not achieve the ultimate goal To print or not to print, that isn’t the question. When the formerly ubiquitous email signature became popular, maybe companies did see a decrease in paper use for a time. But did the nudge truly make a difference over the long term? Was there a paper use policy in place to create lasting institutional behavioral change? Were employees motivated and engaged enough to carry the behavioral change over to their home lives or their next job? That’s sustainability. Nudge marketing is a blip in the radar.

Nudges may backfire! Imagine putting up a sign in the office restrooms over the paper towel dispenser (100% post-consumer recycled paper towels, mind you) that reads: “Remember: Paper towels were trees once.”

Although you’re trying to nudge employees into using less, thus landfilling less, you may immediately find that employees not only aren’t using less paper in the restrooms, but they’re also not participating in any other office sustainability efforts. What went wrong?

Look at the bigger picture. Employees may be infuriated that the air conditioning is still set at 60 degrees and the building lights are on all night, but “you want us to walk around with wet, clammy hands all day so you can save a few dollars on paper towels?”

Just stop nudging altogether in sustainability efforts. Don’t rely on a potentially condescending, ineffective tool to alienate employees. Instead, try educating employees, involving them in the process, and using motivational tools to create lasting change.

Have you seen workplace or marketing “nudges” that backfired? Let us know in the comments.

 

 

Don’t Insult Employees With Sustainability “Nudges”

The SSC Team May 19, 2016 Tags: , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Just a few years ago, everyone seemed to have a signature block pleading for the trees – “Don’t print this e-mail for our planet” or “Think before printing this email.”

And then those tree-loving messages mostly disappeared.

Marketing and behavioral research may be indicating that “nudge” marketing, or deliberately manipulating choices to change behavior, may backfire.

Nudges can be condescending If your employees need to print a report, then they need to print the report. Using an email signature line to signal to one another that individuals aren’t capable or committed enough to make green choices without constant reminders can come off as condescending and put employees on the defensive about sustainability communications.

Even when nudges “work,” they may not achieve the ultimate goal To print or not to print, that isn’t the question. When the formerly ubiquitous email signature became popular, maybe companies did see a decrease in paper use for a time. But did the nudge truly make a difference over the long term? Was there a paper use policy in place to create lasting institutional behavioral change? Were employees motivated and engaged enough to carry the behavioral change over to their home lives or their next job? That’s sustainability. Nudge marketing is a blip in the radar.

Nudges may backfire! Imagine putting up a sign in the office restrooms over the paper towel dispenser (100% post-consumer recycled paper towels, mind you) that reads: “Remember: Paper towels were trees once.”

Although you’re trying to nudge employees into using less, thus landfilling less, you may immediately find that employees not only aren’t using less paper in the restrooms, but they’re also not participating in any other office sustainability efforts. What went wrong?

Look at the bigger picture. Employees may be infuriated that the air conditioning is still set at 60 degrees and the building lights are on all night, but “you want us to walk around with wet, clammy hands all day so you can save a few dollars on paper towels?”

Just stop nudging altogether in sustainability efforts. Don’t rely on a potentially condescending, ineffective tool to alienate employees. Instead, try educating employees, involving them in the process, and using motivational tools to create lasting change.

Have you seen workplace or marketing “nudges” that backfired? Let us know in the comments.

 

 

A Tool Worth Trying: “The Abundance Cycle” for Developing Your Sustainable Business Model

The SSC Team May 10, 2016 Tags: , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Like a broken record, we continue to push out the message that sustainability cannot be a checklist or afterthought. Sustainability must be part of an organization’s core strategy, especially as regulators, stakeholders, and investors continue to push for meaningful progress on social and environmental impacts. 

Simultaneously, the idea that sustainability must continually justify its ROI is old news. Sustainability is profitable, check out the food and beverage industry for one example.

So why not just build the entire business strategy around a sustainability tactic? Good idea.

Building Profit Through Sustainability

We came across an interesting tool that may help existing organizations and entrepreneurs think strategically about sustainability – The Abundance Cycle, building virtuous cycles where solving ecological problems and building resilient communities opens new markets and strengthens competitive advantage.

Whether your organization needs to entirely re-think what services and products it offers, or you have experience in an industry but want to build a product or service that moves the meter on ecological or social problems, the Abundance Cycle exercise may help uncover new market potential.

Although some of the tactics, like reducing waste or increasing efficiency to reduce environmental impact are being widely employed, these and others applied in a new setting or industry may reveal truly disruptive solutions that may lead to meaningful, sustainable change.

People, Profits, Planet

We hate to rain on the parade, but in the event you do find a sweet spot through your Abundance Cycle exercise, be sure to think through the full impact of your idea.

Does your idea create a temporal exchange conundrum? Do you sacrifice one important metric in sustainability to take advantage of another. Creating a product from waste is good, but not being able to provide a safe work environment isn’t sustainable. Using biomimicry to build a better mousetrap is good, but what materials does it require? Are the materials sustainably sourced, produced, shipped, and disposed of?

Give The Abundance Cycle a try, and keep your eye on the big picture during the process.

What do you think the most and least “truly sustainable” brand case studies are in The Abundance Cycle, from a big-picture perspective? Let us know in the comments.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If LeBron Drove a Prius, Would You? Celebrity Endorsements for Green Products

The SSC Team April 19, 2016 Tags: , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Athletes and celebrities have been pitching consumer products for what seems like … ever. But instead of pushing tennis shoes and Cadillacs, what if athletes and celebrities were pushing hybrids, smart thermostats, energy-efficient light bulbs- or pushing the idea of not purchasing anything at all?

An entrepreneur in New Zealand has centered an entire business model, Project LiteFoot, around getting the nation’s most famous athletes and sports clubs to compete (naturally) in a carbon footprint reduction contest, effectually modeling behavior and encouraging green purchasing habits of their biggest fans. They’re seeing results in New Zealand, but would it work in the U.S.?

Maybe. We definitely have a celebrity-focused culture. Elle is already tracking our “greenist” celebrities. And we do love our athletes. Already the EPA is working with sport organizations to “green” the in-game experience and SXSW hosted a ‘greening the big game’ session at its annual conference.

But are these activities leading to meaningful behavior changes for U.S. consumers? Or is this just a waste-reduction/waste-diversion effort benefitting teams and facilities, but not filtering into consumer behavior?

At this point, the potential of green products marketed by celebrities – promoting lasting green behavior – remains untapped here in the U.S. 

It’s exciting to see club-level and league-level activities moving toward waste reduction and energy efficiency at the massive spectacles of our sporting events, but using celebrity endorsements to mainstream the idea of adopting green technology could be a big boost in getting the “average” person into the “eco” column.

Have you seen a great celebrity endorsement that could help mainstream green purchasing? Let us know in the comments.