Whole Foods/Cork ReHarvest Partnership: A Best Practice in Product Lifecycle Management

Image courtesy of Whole Story - the official Whole Foods Market blog.

Earlier this spring, Whole Foods Market and Cork ReHarvest announced a partnership to allow Whole Foods customers to leave wine corks in drop boxes in all Whole Foods stores in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdomto be recycled.  This is an interesting program with a great focus on the lifecycle of products.

Although many people recycle cans, bottles and newspapers, too many other products slip through the cracks and end up in landfills.  I have written in the past that all products that cannot be recycled in towns and municipalities at curbside should come with instructions on how to responsibly be disposed of when finished.  Whether this includes empty toothpaste tubes or laptops, it is important for companies to not only focus on the green marketing message at time of sale, but also the environmental considerations at the end of the product’s lifecycle.

Whole Foods has been an industry pacesetter for some time, having announced a partnership with Preserve in early 2009 to allow customers to bring in hard-to-recycle #5 plastic to stores to be recycled.  This includes Brita filters, which too often find the trash after two months use.  Here is some additional coverage on the Whole Foods blog from April 2010.

My firm, Grossman Marketing Group, also tries to do its part by not only using environmentally-friendly products but also allowing our employees to bring in used lightbulbs (CFL), batteries and paint from home to be recycled.

Consumer goods and electronics companies have a long way to go to ensure that their customers know the facts about what to do with their products when they are finished using them.  However, these partnerships that companies like Whole Foods have created are an encouraging step – and probably a very good way to continue to build their brand and encourage store foot traffic at the same time!

Advertisements

Highlights of Ceres Roadmap to Sustainability

By Marisa Greenwald (Green Marketing & Sustainability Practice, Grossman Marketing Group)

Ceres’ report, titled “21st Century Corporation: The Ceres Roadmap to Sustainability” which it released earlier this spring, contains noteworthy proposals for corporate governance and green marketing.  As a network of investors, environmental organizations and public interest groups, Ceres incorporates the private sector perspective into the sustainability movement.  The report encourages organizations to create serious internal metrics for sustainability rather than limiting their focus to their sales and PR efforts.  Out of the 20 expectations presented for new business standards, I wanted to highlight three in particular, which, if implemented, would help align business objectives with sustainability goals in a meaningful way.

The first expectation of note is “requiring clear public policy position statements” from companies.  Ceres believes that companies should disclose their public policy positions, as well as membership in and contributions to trade associations. When appropriate, companies should also develop public policy positions that support best practices in sustainability.  An example of this was in Fall 2009, when several companies, including Apple, left the U.S.  Chamber of Commerce because of the organization’s criticism of pending climate change legislation.  This expectation would go a long way in removing the current disconnect between lobbying and marketing by requiring companies to integrate sustainability messages into consumer communication, and actually prove that they’re truly committed to environmentally-sound practices.

Another standard worth mentioning is for companies to require “suppliers to meet the same sustainable standards as the company.”  As part of a marketing communications company with some of the strongest environmental standards in the industry, I understand the environmental impact that sustainable practices, and, alternatively, their absence can have across the entire supply chain.  This recommendation would reward suppliers with positive environmental practices, incentivize companies to work with environmentally-minded suppliers, and hold companies accountable not just for their own practices but for their vendors’ practices.

A final impressive expectation laid out in the report is “designing and delivering products [and services] aligned with sustainability goals.”  This expectation goes to the heart of a company’s work and places a high consideration on sustainability in product formulation and promotion.  By factoring environmental considerations into the creation of products, companies will be playing a positive role in shaping consumer behavior by moving consumption patterns toward sustainable ends.  As someone passionate about green pursuits, I see this expectation as the one with the most potential beneficial impact in the sustainability cause.

Ceres mentions one interesting way to implement this final idea: it recommends that companies “re-conceive the idea of a ‘product’ such as transitioning from offering products to offering utilities or services. “  In fact, Ceres mentions one of Grossman Marketing Group’s most sustainable-minded clients, Zipcar, which has reshaped the way consumers use automobiles.  As mentioned, Zipcar offers customers the use of a car in hourly units, which removes the need to own a car for urban use and moves toward offering the car as a service.  Zipcar also offers lower pricing for hybrid vehicles, encouraging customers to use this cleaner mode of transport.

While this report contains some impressive ideas for corporate reform, it is unclear whether and to what extent such expectations will be implemented in the coming years.  Regardless, the report serves as a positive sign that some agreement has been reached between private sector influencers and public sector opinion leaders on the need to move forward in implementing sustainability standards.  It also lays out for companies a sustainability roadmap, should they choose to use it.

Click here to access the full Ceres report.

Proctor & Gamble’s Green Scorecard to Include Media and Marketing Firms

In a wake-up call for marketing services firms, Proctor & Gamble Co. unveiled its Supplier Environmental Sustainability Scorecard earlier this month, and, as Ad Age wrote, “neither advertising agencies nor media companies appear to be off the hook.”

The environmental measures include:

  • Energy usage
  • Waste disposal, reduction and recycling
  • Environmental regulatory compliance factors

Also of note is that P&G is providing extra points on the scale (from 1-5, with 5 being the best) to firms that provide sustainability ideas.

The scorecard will initially be rolled out to 400 suppliers throughout P&G’s entire supply chain.

The key takeaway from this news report is the increasing movement of large companies to reward suppliers for green business practices at the expense of competitors who have not demonstrated environmental leadership.  The message is clear: cut your carbon footprint, or you will see your revenues cut.  This is a sure sign that sustainability goes hand-in-hand with profitability.

Here’s a link to the article in Ad Age.

Green mail in a down economy

Target Marketing recently published an article titled “The Return of the Green Mail Debate,” which I wanted to share.  The article’s premise is that during this economic downturn, sustainability is less important to marketers, and that once the economy rebounds there will be more interest from companies in being green in their marketing efforts.

I believe this message is a short-sighted one. As I have written over the past couple years since the economy started to dip, companies that slash their commitment to sustainability to cut costs will suffer long-term consequences with customers who are increasingly demanding that organizations they buy from do business in socially-responsible ways.

The writer, Ethan Boldt, does try to segment marketers into various buckets, based on their (or their customers’)  interest in sustainability and how this impacts their marketing decisions:

  1. Marketers and organizations that do not care about green, regardless of the economy
  2. Organizations that always care about green, regardless of the economy
  3. Marketers that care about green, depending on their target markets

I do agree that sustainability is more important to certain companies than to others, depending on the markets that they serve.  However, the writer and some of his subjects imply that a barrier to “green mail” usage is due to its higher cost structure and that only once economy rebounds will it make a comeback.  This article fails to mention that people can be greener about their mail without it costing their organizations any more money. The fact that people can use wind power, soy-based inks (if printed offset) and certain types of recycled paper without any additional cost, is crucial to understand, as there is a rampant misperception in the marketplace that going green costs more. If people work with the right production partner, they can go green in a way that does not have a negative impact on the bottom line.

Marketers need to be sensible about watching expenses, especially when the economy is still weak.  However, if there were better education in the marketplace (from the U.S. Postal Service, the Direct Marketing Association, etc.) about ways to go green at no extra cost, I am confident that not only would marketers make more sustainable choices, but customers would come to expect that mail be done in a green way.  These would be positive developments, and would help ensure that direct marketing leaves less of a footprint on our fragile planet moving forward.

Highlights from Environmental Defense Green Business Unconference

338777292By Lenora Deslandes (Green Marketing & Sustainability Practice, Grossman Marketing Group)

Sustainability and the environment have been my main areas of study for the past three years at Boston University. After speaking with professors about issues and serving as an active member of a wide array of sustainability initiatives on the BU campus, I decided it was important for my development to receive some real-world experience in the sustainability space. After researching businesses that valued and were leaders in sustainability, I was excited to find a home for the summer as an intern for Grossman Marketing Group. One of the many opportunities I have had so far was to attend the Green Business for Innovation Unconference, organized by Environmental Defense, on Monday, June 22.

This conference, or rather, unconference, was different than any other I’ve ever attended. There was no agenda upon arrival. No keynote speaker, no panel of experts. Instead, the topics of each of the 45-minute discussion sessions were decided upon at the beginning by everyone collectively and then led by a volunteer attendee. This may sound like a recipe for chaos, but in fact, it was quite the opposite. In all the sessions I attended (Practical Tools for Sustainability, Greening Small Businesses, and Big Business/Small Business Collaboration) the discussions were freeflowing yet managed to be relevant and interesting. And when the moderator, Odin Zackmin of DIG IN, popped in to give the five-minute warning, the conversation was neatly wrapped up and attendees exchanged contact information.

The tone during the conference was one of shared experiences, advice lending, and support – very different from the cut-throat world of business I had expected to encounter. As so eloquently put by Holly Fowler, senior director of corporate citizenship for Sodexo, “the new competitive advantage is the ability to share what you have done with others. It is no longer exclusivity.”

If there is any embodiment of this new path business is on, it is the unconference. There were about 85 participants representing all areas of business from large corporations like Citizens Bank and Stop & Shop to local activists and small business employees and even interns. Although all participants were different, it was clear from the start that everyone had the same goal: to engage in a meaningful conversation about sustainability issues and how they can be best addressed by businesses combining everyone’s experience and expertise.

Some of my key takeaways were:

  • There needs to be a collaborative effort between big and small businesses to share best practices on how to become green
  • The need for a central database of information and resources where businesses can connect with each other was repeatedly raised
  • It’s important for businesses to motivate people to make green choices to ensure a long-term, sustainable future

The unconference brought to light many obstacles businesses face in addressing sustainability but also made it clear that a future of sustainable business practices being the norm is not only possible but well on its way.

Notes from most of the discussion sessions can be found here.

An inside look at the greening of Harvard Business School

HBS Green TeamI’m pleased to include a guest post from Katharine Randel, who is a staff member of the Marketing Unit at Harvard Business School, as well as a member of the school’s Green Team.  I met Kathy earlier this year when I gave a presentation on green marketing and green business issues to the HBS Green Team (HBS is a client of our firm), and I was struck by her passion for and knowledge about sustainability issues.

I invited her to write an article on the work that the HBS Green Team is doing to help reduce the carbon footprint of the school, and I’m excited to feature her report below.

****

By Katharine Randel

When I began working at Harvard Business School several years ago, there was no paper recycling program.  Dismayed at how much paper I was putting in the trash every day, I enthusiastically joined a group of MBA students spearheading an effort to bring paper recycling to campus as soon as I learned of their work.  A few months later, recycling bins began appearing around campus, and today all offices have them.  In the years following, several sustainability practices were added to the HBS campus (for example, solar panels were added to the roof of the gym); but as an administrative employee supporting faculty, I was not involved…until recently.

A few years ago, Meghan Duggan was hired as assistant director of mechanical, electrical, plumbing and sustainability projects.  One of Meghan’s initiatives was to start an HBS Green Team of employees across all departments whose mission it is to establish a sense of environmental awareness throughout the HBS community.  The goal of the Green Team is to effect a change in behavior among faculty and staff that leads to a reduction in water and energy consumption and waste generation.  In January, I became the Green Team representative for a building of 250 faculty and staff.

This winter the Green Team held an energy competition in which ten office buildings on campus competed to reduce their energy consumption from the same time period the year prior.  This year the overall campus reduction was 24,880 kWh for one month.  The estimated monthly campus savings was $3,732 with an approximate reduction of 10.45 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions.   Ten-and-a-half metric tons is the equivalent of CO2 emissions from 1,186 gallons of gasoline consumed.   If HBS faculty and staff maintained their energy-saving behavior for the rest of the year, we could save $44,784 and reduce CO2 emissions by 125.40 metric tons.

But the numerical results are only part of the story.  Another goal of the competition was to raise awareness and educate faculty and staff about sustainable behaviors.  In my building the competition has been surprisingly successful.  Since the competition, more than 20 faculty and staff have offered suggestions for ways HBS could reduce its energy consumption.  I circulate suggested behavioral changes back to the building inhabitants and contact various departments to follow up on suggestions.  When people see me in the hall they now tell me the latest steps they’ve taken, confess their inaction, or tease me (one of my coworkers turned out the lights in the copy room — knowing I was in the room — to “conserve energy”).  I am thrilled; every conversation and email tells me faculty and staff are more aware and the efforts of the Green Team are making a difference.

To learn more about Harvard Business School and Harvard University’s efforts towards environmental sustainability please see the following websites:  HBS Business & Environment and Harvard Operations Services Sustainability.

—-
Katharine Randel is the Unit Coordinator for the Marketing Unit at Harvard Business School. In that role she collaborates with faculty to create strategies and programs that foster the unit’s cohesion and purpose.  She has been passionate about improving the health of our natural environment since reading Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring in seventh grade. In addition to her HBS Green Team activities she has studied environmental management at Harvard Extension School and has been composting and growing organic fruit and vegetables for 19 years.