I love the Sustainability Explored podcast, hosted by Anna Chashchyna. Anna has some really interesting guests on her show, and her show was just included on this list of top 50 sustainability podcasts (she was #15).
I love the branded merchandise industry, and am proud that our family business has become one of the nation’s leading firms in this space.
However, one thing that has bothered me for years is that when companies rebrand or get acquired, a lot of swag unfortunately can find its way to a landfill. I’ve been working with my team to solve this problem. Last month, we launched SwagCycle, a service focused on responsibly managing the lifecycle of branded merchandise.
We’ve developed a simple and efficient 3-step process to address this issue with companies: (1) Assess the inventory of unwanted items; (2) Confirm brand guidelines to determine if excess items can live on with charitable partners or should be recycled; and (3) Match items with appropriate charities and/or recycling partners.
We’ve been working for quite some time to build a proprietary network of charitable and recycling partners to help companies repurpose and recycle their unwanted branded items in a responsible, ethical and affordable way.
The response from the charitable community has been amazing. These include organizations like Second Chances, which accepts donations of clothing, shoes, and accessories to assist homeless and lower-income people to better their lives and to help minimize the amount of discarded clothing sent to local landfills.
If you’d like to learn more, I wrote a white paper about Solving the Unusable Swag Problem.
I look forward to your feedback!
By Greg McCarthy (Summer Associate Marketing Intern, Grossman Marketing Group. Undergraduate Marketing Major, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth)
Greetings all – Please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Greg McCarthy and I am a senior Marketing major at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. Over the last 3 years at school, I have developed a deep interest in not only marketing, but also in sustainability, specifically seeing the ways it is implemented in business. Today, I have the privilege of getting to write a guest post for Ben Grossman’s “Sustainable Ink” blog on BBMG’s latest white paper Disrupt & Delight, which focuses on implementing “Sustainable Brand Innovation” in 5 principles. I connected with Ben after his presentation on a panel at the 3rd Annual Sustainable Economy Conference in Boston in April, and recently started working for his firm, Grossman Marketing Group, as a Summer Associate Marketing Intern.
Ben has mentioned BBMG in the past on this blog as a firm based in Brooklyn, New York, that has been a leader in sustainability for many years. To download the full white paper, please click here and then follow the prompts.
BBMG’s five principles describe real world examples about how we can get the wheel turning towards addressing major environmental issues in the business world. The white paper’s first principle, “Start with what’s Sacred,” explains how in order to address economic and environmental threats and maintain a commitment to sustainability, the approach to innovation “must begin not just with the technical marvels of polymers and solvents, but the values, hopes and aspirations of our shared humanity.” The principle features Chipotle’s recent advertising efforts to grow more organic ingredients and provide customers with healthier food. Please find the video below.
Principle 2, “Design Holistically” describes innovation as being “interconnected.” BBMG believes sustainable brand innovation needs a “holistic approach” especially within business, and that product and service design must occur in an ecosystem that reinforces the health, sustainability and success of each part over time. Levi’s Water<Less jeans are highlighted in this principle by describing their stylish design that also use less water in the production process.
The third principle, “Create Collaboratively,” transitions smoothly off the message that principle 2 sets, and discusses open innovation platforms, industry coalitions, and community-driven platforms as examples of collaboration that are helping to drive change. I particularly found interesting the example they used on Unilever’s Open Innovation, which describes how Unilever started an online platform for outside experts to contribute to the idea of “doubling the size of its business while reducing the size of its environmental impact.” For a link to read more about this online platform, please click here.
The fourth principle is titled “Be Playful” and focuses on the correlation between play and innovation. The creativity behind sustainable ideas such as RecycleBank and Save Up has created effective ways to “mobilize behaviors that integrate play, sustainability and social impact.”
The fifth and final principle, “Disrupt and Delight,” uses Nike as a focal point behind its message that consumers want good products and expect them to be responsibly produced. Some terrific quotes by Hannah Jones, the vice president of sustainable business and innovation at Nike, are featured: “What we have to do with sustainability is to make today’s status quo obsolete so that it just becomes the norm and default option because it’s better, easier and frankly more delightful to the consumer.” Jones also talks about how to “never compromise performance and price for sustainability or you will do a disservice to sustainability.” Here’s an excellent Q&A with Jones on GreenBiz.
Overall, – I thought BBMG demonstrated a strong connection when linking Sustainable Brand Innovation to the current issues our planet is facing. When combining the principles together, BBMG believes they can create new ways “to do much more with much less.” I strongly support this notion, and urge others to draw their attention to these topics.
I had the privilege of guest lecturing at Tufts University in late February to a class titled “Social Marketing.” I focused my presentation on green marketing and sustainability, with a particular emphasis on the importance of transparency. In addition, I spent some time on product lifecycle management, which I’ve been interested in for a while, and have been learning a lot more about through my membership on the Product Stewardship Institute Advisory Council.
I’m pleased to include a selection of slides that I discussed in class below:
I provided a best practice example, which I wrote about in July 2009, about the use of eco-logos and statistics on the outside envelope of a fundraising appeal by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which was signed by former Vice President Al Gore.
I then went on to discuss an example of greenwashing by a major company, SC Johnson, in their creation of Greenlist. Terrachoice, a leading environmental marketing agency, defines greenwashing as “the act of misleading consumers regarding the environmental practices of a company or the environmental benefits of a product or service.” SC Johnson created the program in 2001 and started putting its Greenlist logo on products in 2008 to indicate that one of their products met certain environmental standards. The problem was that SC Johnson made the logo look very official, which gave many consumers the idea that it was rated by an outside organization, which it was not. Two class action lawsuits were filed against SC Johnson, which they settled in 2011, by agreeing not to use the Greenlist logo on Windex moving forward. Here’s an excellent article on the settlement by GreenBiz. Here’s a quote from Fisk Johnson, SC Johnson’s chairman and CEO, that sums up the issue of greenwashing very well: “In retrospect. we could have done a better job at being more transparent and clearer with our label and what it meant.”
Following this discussion, I reviewed Poland Spring’s 5-gallon “Eco Sense Bottle” that it unveiled in 2010. When I first saw the bottle on one of my office’s water coolers, I did some investigating, and wrote an article about it, which is still the most read post on my blog over the past 5 years. The reason I wrote about the bottle was that it had an environmental logo with no explanation of what the logo meant. I spoke with a representative who told me that the bottle used less plastic and was easier to recycle. I did not believe this was greenwashing, but rather, as I wrote 2 years ago, “a failure of a major brand to provide clarity on its green claims…Poland Spring went to the trouble of trademarking ‘eco-sense’ and creating a special logo for the term, but they didn’t take the extra step of providing consumers an explanation of what the term means.”
The next part of the discussion focused on product lifecycle management and the importance of reducing the use of resources in packaging. To create these slides, I was lucky to get help from Scott Cassel, the founder and CEO of Product Stewardship Institute. The example I provided was Staples, and its pioneering computer “take back” program, which, according to the company, allows consumers to “securely recycle your end-of-life technology.” These programs prevent a large number of devices from being thrown away, reducing the presence of hazardous materials in the waste stream. Staples was the first major retailer to offer such a program, and it had a significant impact on its industry; Best Buy, Office Depot and a range of other firms have followed suit. Not only is this good for the environment, and convenient for consumers, but it has been good for Staples as well – studies have shown that this program increased consumer loyalty to the chain.
I closed out the formal part of the program with a discussion about packaging, and how reducing the resources needed to make products can have a significant impact on a company’s brand. Over the last decade, Wal-Mart, the leading retailer in the world, has suffered a number of public relations issues, with many focused on its treatment of workers. In addition, very few retailers have had a more significant positive environmental impact on their industry or suppliers than Wal-Mart. There is a wide array of information on Wal-Mart’s sustainability efforts on its website, including its creation of a Sustainability Index, its efforts to create zero waste, as well as its aggressive efforts to reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. I focused the conversation on one example of Wal-Mart exerting its influence on a supplier to effect significant change in its industry. The supplier was Tide, and the result was a packaging revolution. Several years ago, Wal-Mart set a goal of only selling concentrated liquid laundry detergent in all of its U.S. and Canadian stores. The program was a success, and the entire industry has been transformed. In addition, because of this and a number of other initiatives, consumers have easier access to more environmentally-friendly products, and Wal-Mart’s reputation has been partially rehabilitated.
The students, all of whom are undergraduate students at Tufts University, had a wide range of interesting and insightful questions and comments. I was honored to have had the opportunity to spend the evening with them!
As we approach the end of a very busy 2011, I’ve been seeing a lot of interesting year-end articles that I’ve been saving to read later. I thought it would be helpful to include a selection of them for you in one place:
- “A Manifesto for Sustainable Capitalism,” by Al Gore and David Blood, published in the Wall Street Journal on December 14, 2011. They define sustainable capitalism as “a framework that seeks to maximize long-term economic value by reforming markets to address real needs while integrating environmental, social and governance (ESG) metrics throughout the decision-making process.” They explain that research shows that “embracing sustainable capitalism yields four kinds of important benefits for companies:
• Developing sustainable products and services can increase a company’s profits, enhance its brand, and improve its competitive positioning, as the market increasingly rewards this behavior.
• Sustainable capitalism can also help companies save money by reducing waste and increasing energy efficiency in the supply chain, and by improving human-capital practices so that retention rates rise and the costs of training new employees decline.
• Third, focusing on ESG metrics allows companies to achieve higher compliance standards and better manage risk since they have a more holistic understanding of the material issues affecting their business.
• Researchers (including Rob Bauer and Daniel Hann of Maastricht University, and Beiting Cheng, Ioannis Ioannou and George Serafeim of Harvard) have found that sustainable businesses realize financial benefits such as lower cost of debt and lower capital constraints.”
- GreenBiz.com’s “Our 12 Best Stories of 2011,” includes a wide range of articles, including “Soap and Glory: A Peek Behind Method’s Methods,” “The Story Behind Google’s Huge Appetite for Energy,” “5 Myths About Sustainability Executives,” and “The Future (and Past) of the ‘Office of the Future.'”
- Most Read Paper and Packaging Stories of 2011 from our friends at Environmental Leader. There’s been a lot of chatter and innovation around the lifecycle of packaging and the need for manufacturers to be responsible for the the stewardship of their products from beginning to disposal. It’s been an issue close to my heart for many years – along these lines, I was recently asked to become a charter member of the Product Stewardship Institute Advisory Council. This organization has played a critical role in bringing government, industry, and other stakeholders together to jointly develop solutions to difficult waste management problems for many years and I’m honored to be part of such a great group. To learn more about the council, here’s a link to a PDF press release.
- 10 Predictions for Cleantech and Sustainability in 2012 from GreenBiz.com. It covers renewable energy, green marketing, transportation, and energy efficiency topics among others.
- Lastly, I’m excited to share some positive news on Cape Wind. This plan to build offshore wind turbines in Nantucket Sound has long been delayed by lawsuits and controversy. This week, Massachusetts’ highest court gave the project the “green light” according to the Boston Globe. Cape Wind CEO said he hopes project construction will start in about a year. Here’s a link to the Boston Globe article.
I want to wish everyone a happy, healthy and productive 2012. Thanks for reading!
Our friends at Environmental Leader have recently released their Q2 2011 Environmental & Energy Data Book. Here’s how they describe the document on their website:
The book supplies busy executives and research teams with a collection of charts presenting environmental, sustainability and energy-related data on a quarterly basis. Our goal is to make the job of gathering essential information and metrics a bit easier for corporate decision-makers.
Data topics include Energy, Facilities, Sustainability & Strategy, Management Systems & Reporting, Carbon Costs & Markets, Marketing & Public Opinion, Transportation & Supply Chain, Emissions and Waste & Recycling.
Hi all – I was pleased to be featured on GreenMarketingTV in late May, and wanted to share the article with you. Here’s a link. I have also included the text of the interview below:
Green Entrepreneur Interview: Ben Grossman, Sustainable Direct Mail | Green Marketing TV
What was your inspiration for starting Sustainable Ink? When and how did you get started?
I started my blog, Sustainable Ink, in 2007. I had joined my fourth-generation family business, Grossman Marketing Group, the previous year and was often thinking about sustainability and green business issues. Our business was founded in 1910 as Massachusetts Envelope Company, and it’s evolved into an integrated marketing services firm.
Today, our main service lines are a design studio, envelopes and direct mail services, printing of all kinds, and promotional products. In addition, we have a fast-growing e-commerce and rewards and incentives business. As oil prices were rising, and global warming had gone from a fad to stated fact, I saw the writing on the wall – that we live in a world with finite resources, and consumers are increasingly interested in companies’ environmental footprint, commitment to environmental causes, and the sustainability of their products.
I wanted to start a blog through which I could discuss these issues, with an emphasis on marketing services and my industry. I have been very proud to see the site’s readership grow over time, and have some of my posts picked up by national green news sources, most recently Environmental Leader and Ecopreneurist.
I launched our firm’s green marketing and sustainability practice the previous year with the goal of working with my team to help clients identify environmentally-conscious business practices as a way to differentiate them from their competition and establish a competitive advantage in their respective fields. For this work I was the 2009 recipient of the New England Direct Marketing Association Prodigy Award. The Prodigy Award is given to one marketing professional each year in New England under the age of 30 who has added the most to the art and science of direct marketing in the prior year.
Is interest in sustainable marketing growing or declining?
Green marketing is definitely not out, but consumers have been inundated with an array of green logos, claims and messages, and they are becoming increasingly skeptical of the green claims they read and hear. Much of the research I have seen, as well as my own experience, point to the need for transparency in green marketing claims. People want to know not only how a product is green, but according to whom. The third-party reference needs to be a legitimate one – not an unknown group with a confusing website.
In the print world, the best example of a strong and respected third-party authority is the Environmental Defense Paper Calculator. On this site, people can calculate the savings derived from using papers with post-consumer recycled content. These savings include energy, wastewater, trees, etc. I like this because it’s a resource that is industry independent. Although I respect the savings calculators put together by paper companies, using a third-party resource rings truer to consumers.
How do you help your clients target and reach green consumers?
There is a wide range of ways to target and reach green consumers. They include buying ads on websites that cater to these consumers, as well as on-the-ground outreach at community events. In addition, using sophisticated direct mail techniques, the right brand can reach the right people with useful, actionable direct mail.
How do you help businesses communicate their green-ness to their customers?
The most important advice I can give to companies is to tell the truth and be transparent in their claims. Companies get in trouble by greenwashing – when they mislead consumers about their environmental practices or the environmental benefits of a product, and consumers are getting fed up. As I mentioned earlier, when making a claim, try to use a respected third-party resource to verify it.
How do you find your customers?
The best customers come by referral, but we also find them through speaking engagements, direct mail, networking, social media and online ads. We believe the best campaigns are integrated ones, and we try to practice what we preach!
What are consumers looking for in a green company? What messages do they want to hear?
Consumers are looking for green products to be made from renewable resources, use recycled content, or with less materials than in the past. For service providers, consumers are looking for consistency. For example, if a hotel claims to be green because of an array of practices, it is somewhat of a contradiction when there are no easy ways to recycle plastic bottles, cans, paper, etc. I have seen this too often when traveling on business, and I wish some hotels would give greater consideration to waste management practices.
Does sustainable marketing typically cost more money?
Sustainable marketing shouldn’t necessarily cost more money. In the print business, people can generally use recycled papers, vegetable-based inks and renewable energy in the production process for no extra cost. There are of course premium eco-friendly papers that add cost (New Leaf, Mohawk Options, Neenah Environment, to name a few), but if a marketing professional is working with the right vendor partners, they should be able to reduce their footprint without adding much cost.
What recommendations do you have for businesses to green their marketing without breaking the bank?
As I mentioned earlier, people can use vegetable-based inks, renewable energy and recycled materials for little or no extra cost. Some practices can cut costs – like considering the production of an item during the design stage, so it gets optimized for printing to use the least amount of paper. In addition, when people manage their mailing lists well, they mail fewer pieces to a better audience, thus cutting postage and printing costs.
Are all your marketing services eco-friendly? How is your business greener than your competitors?
Our services are fairly resource intensive, so we try to be conscious of our footprint at all steps in the process. For example:
1) All metal printing plates are collected after use and given to a recycling company.
2) All press solvents and washes are low VOC (volatile organic compound) formulas that minimize impact on the environment as they contain no acetones.
3) All non-metallic inks are vegetable-based (i.e. non-petroleum based). The ink contains approximately 35% oil, all of which is vegetable-based (soy and linseed).
4) Our inks are made from a “stay open” formula – meaning that the top layer does not skim over and form an unusable layer – this reduces ink use by about 10% annually.
5) All waste ink is sent to a recycler where it is mixed with other waste to form a low-grade heating oil.
6) All paper waste and cardboard packaging are sent to a paper recycling company.
7) Our prepress system is entirely chemical free – only water is used to rinse the plate after imaging.
8) All waste oil is recycled with an oil recovery service.
9) All wood pallets are returned to our paper merchants for re-use.
10) In addition, here’s a blog post I wrote about recycling, in which I explain that we allow our employees to bring in batteries, CFLs, fluorescent tube bulbs and paint from home to be recycled by a partner of ours. We recently added a Big Green Box to our office so our colleagues can bring in electrical waste from home as well.
What kinds of mistakes do green businesses generally make that you would advise against?
The worst mistake is to not tell the truth or to make misleading statements and we strongly advise against them. In addition, we make sure that green marketing underpins an organization’s overall commitment to sustainable practices. If they are just surface changes, consumers will see through them. In addition, employees want to work for socially responsible organizations.
What mistakes have you made as a green entrepreneur and what advice would you give others looking to start a green business?
Sometimes I have had the tendency to try to make a product or offering perfect before rolling it out. One piece of advice I would have is to “beta” test everything, as early customer feedback will always help you improve.
You can get in touch with Ben through Twitter.
Thanks to amazing support from you, our readers, traffic has steadily grown to Sustainable Ink as sustainability has become a more critical issue to our future.
As a result of this momentum, I was honored to be tapped to become part of a group of “Sustainability Thought Leaders” on a new site built by Netline Corporation. Please click here to visit the site.
Here’s a description of the site’s focus: BlogNotions Sustainability delivers a diverse series of perspectives provided by thought leaders in the areas of sustainability, renewable energy, the environment and related topics.
They plan to repost articles from Sustainable Ink, so you can continue to read them here. However, I didn’t want to let any time go by without saying thank you.
I had the privilege of serving on a panel in April at Columbia Business School during Reunion weekend titled “The Returns to Social Enterprise.” The panel was moderated by Ray Fisman, the Co-Director of the Social Enterprise Program at Columbia Business School. Please click on the image above to watch the video from our talk.
The conversation covered trends in social enterprise, renewable energy, as well as green marketing and the issue of transparency around green claims. There were also some excellent questions from the audience about sustainable procurement strategies. I was really impressed with my fellow panelists, and I think the whole video is interesting. In case you’re wondering, my portion starts around the 13-minute mark.The other panelists were:
The response to my post from yesterday, “A Negative Tipping Point for FSC Certification,” has been overwhelming. In my 4 years of blogging, it has been far and away the most widely-read and distributed post. Most notably, it was picked up by Ecopreneurist, a leading green business news website, which you can view here.
I have received dozens of tweets, as well as messages on Facebook and Linkedin, and virtually every comment has been supportive of my suggestion that FSC’s best days may be behind it in the printing and marketing industries. I welcome your feedback as well!