Editor's View May 2018

Elephants In The Eco Room

 

Because issues surrounding eco-friendly products are so complex, one doesn’t have to go far before experiencing “Wait…what?” moments that project mixed signals about companies or products purported to have something “green” about them. During a showroom tour at March’s N.Y. Market, the company representative proudly explained that the factory operates with environment-friendly processes, and then revealed its specialty is making polyester microfiber products. When asked why they are using non-environment friendly polyester, the response was, “Well, that’s what the [retailer] customer wants.” Wait….what? So what does the factory really stand for?
In another showroom, a hyped salesperson detailed the natural ingredients used as starting points in the creation of fiber for a new line of comfort sleep products. He continued to explain how the ingredients become yarn, fabric and fill, and in spite of the fact that he spoke rather quickly, my ear caught the word “polyester.”
I said, “Did you say the natural ingredients are transformed into a polyester in the production process?”
“Yes.” Wait…what? Confusing when touted natural ingredients result in non-biodegradable synthetics.
Being dedicated 100 percent to sustainability is more than a marketing strategy—it’s a business way of life in which eco-friendliness must be top-of-mind in every decision. So kudos to manufacturers—some are featured in the “Exploring Eco” article—who years ago embraced the environmentalism mantle when it wasn’t popular or easy.
In the past, all too often suppliers and retailers pushed the responsibility onto the consumer when it came to justifying corporate attitudes—or lack of them—toward environmentalism—i.e., “consumers aren’t asking for/won’t pay for it, so we don’t need to sell/make it.” It’s a bit like the shepherd eschewing responsibility and blaming the sheep, who don’t know where the right road is, for heading off in the wrong direction.
Recently, survey results from several manufacturers and associations indicate that today the buying public is very concerned about what products are made of and how they impact the planet, especially Millennials. So passing the buck to consumers to justify not addressing eco-friendly issues doesn’t quite work as it used to.
Elephants in the eco room that haven’t been addressed enough include:
• The reduction of “green washing” or misdirection in marketing. Adherence to “green” certification requirements and honest messages from retailers and manufacturers designed to increase consumer education on what’s eco-friendly and what’s not may help cut through misleading marketing from ethically questionable entities.
• The acknowledgement that attrition in the industry may be ahead. It has become part of corporate America always to strive to be bigger and produce more. For several years, reports on changes in consumer mindset have indicated that people want more worthwhile experiences—they don’t want more “stuff.” The post-Depression Era idea of using something until it wears out may make a comeback yet. A shift towards less quantity relates to environmentalism—fewer possessions, less waste and pollution.
So it may not be “business as usual” down the road. The winners may be the ethically minded companies who make inroads into operating in a sustainable and socially responsible way for the benefit of all as well as their bottom lines.