In today’s competitive business landscape and shifting consumer climate, being sustainable as a company is no longer a “nice to do” objective. CPG brands must embrace sustainability in all aspects—from the products themselves to how they are manufactured, packaged, marketed, all the way down to the use of energy efficient offices—to be successful now and in the future.
Consumers who once traded-off sustainability for reasonable prices, quality, and safety are now seeking products and brands that align with their values and beliefs. For CPG companies looking to capitalize on this eco-conscious market, becoming more sustainable makes long-term economic sense by meeting consumer and legislative demand.
Below are several approaches companies are taking to lead the way in sustainability.
1. Green Energy
There is a myriad of ways and approaches companies can shift to green energy. While some organizations may work towards managing, reducing, and offsetting carbon or greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, others are focused reducing freshwater use, implementing alternative energy sources such as solar, wind, and methane, water recycling, landfill diversion, and more.
Unilever has been leading the way in its green energy initiatives, hitting its goal of using 100% renewable electricity across 5 continents earlier than expected in September 2019. This accomplishment means Unilever is using 100% renewable grid electricity across all its factories, offices, R&D facilities, data centers, warehouses, and distribution centers. Unilever is not done yet, either. It has pledged to be entirely carbon neutral across the business before 2030.
2. Eco-Friendly Packaging, Compostable Packaging, and Plastic Pledges
Sustainable packaging is exactly what it sounds like; it is packaging that is recyclable, compostable, safe for individuals, and/or produced via recycled or renewable energy. As the awareness of plastic pollution increases, more and more consumers are seeking out sustainable options that reduces plastic, uses compostable packaging or recycled plastic, or encourages plastic recycling. According to a 2019 Global Consumer Insights Survey, 37% said they looked for products with environmentally-friendly packaging and 41% said they avoided the use of plastic when they could.
CPG giant, Nestlé, is no new kid on the block when it comes to eco-friendly packaging. A year ago, it intensified its actions to make 100% of its packaging recyclable or reusable by 2025 and pledged to reduce its use of virgin plastics by one-third in the same period. This pledge is carefully calculated—after all, 87% of Nestlé’s total packaging by weight is already recyclable or reusable.
Nestlé’s overall strategy includes investment in food-grade recycled plastics in the U.S., a refillable system for pet food in Chile, and transitioning to paper packaging across various formats.
3. Giving Back
As the consumer attitudes grow greener, brands are increasingly seeking partnerships or in-house give back programs that can help them be more eco-conscious to give customers a reason to feel good while shopping with them.
Patagonia has incorporated sustainability in their DNA since day one. Its give back initiative is three-pronged including its Worn Wear Program, 1% For The Planet non-profit, and Action Works platform.
The Worn Wear Program sells secondhand Patagonia items at an attractive discount with an even more attractive messaging promoting sustainability, while its Action Works platform connects consumers to local and regional environmental protection groups. The 1% For The Planet non-profit was founded by Patagonia CEO, Yvon Chouinard, and Craig Mathews to raise funds to address urgent environmental issues. Patagonia itself donates 1% of all sales to this organization.
4. Transparency and Traceability
Not only is it increasingly important for brands to be sustainable, but they need to back up and verify these claims to consumers. In a study conducted by Sendle, 73% of consumers stated that traceability is important when considering a product. Ultimately, consumers want proof that when they shop with a brand, they are making an environmentally sound decision.
The California Milk Advisory Board (CMAB) isn’t just passionate about spreading the word about the extraordinary dairy products made with Real California Milk—it is equally passionate about sharing the sustainability practices of California’s dairy farmers.
California dairy farm families are focused on a cleaner, more sustainable future and as a result, California leads the nation in sustainability dairy farming. California dairies’ carbon footprint has been shrinking for decades—45% over the past 50 years (1964-2014)—and is among the smallest carbon footprint per gallon of milk produced in the world. But California dairy farmers aren’t resting on their laurels. They continue to reduce climate emissions and today are more than halfway to achieving a statewide goal of reducing manure methane emissions an additional 40% by 2030.
Technology companies are enabling transparency and traceability like never before. From farm to fork, including last mile to consumers for transparency and traceback to origin, companies like iFoodDS are building confidence for both consumers and the trade (including packers, suppliers, brands and retailers.) Their ability to trace back from every consumer package helps expedite and narrow investigations and recalls. It also makes Integration with food safety data and shipment tracking across the entire supply turnkey.
5. Regenerative Farming
In its most basic definition, regenerative agriculture is an eco-friendlier method of farming. While this explanation is simple, regenerative farming is everything but that. Stemming from Robert Rodale’s idea of “regenerative organic,” regenerative agriculture goes beyond sustainability and is meant to maintain and improve resources such as degraded soil, pollinator biodiversity, and carbon capture in the soil.
While the USDA Certified Organic seal is a rigorous standard, there are some gaps with the organic certification when it comes to soil health and animal welfare requirements, especially pertaining to the treatment of farmers, farm animals, and farm workers.
The Regenerative Organic Certified™ seal, given to farms that utilize regenerative farming and follow all the strict requirements, is a revolutionary new certification for food, textiles, and personal care ingredients. ROC™ farms and products meet the highest standards in the world. ROC™ has three pillars that must be precisely met: improving soil health, prioritizing animal welfare, and upholding social fairness.
Grain Place Foods, a pioneer of sustainable grain products, is among a small group of brands—from Patagonia to Dr. Bronner’s—that have taken part in a pilot regenerative farming program. This program is helping to mold the guidelines of what exactly is regenerative organic.
New Leaf Tree Syrups is a leader in the production of plant-based syrups with the largest variety of product choices. They specialize in the production of USDA Organic, and regeneratively grown, tree syrups. The brand strives to sustainably harvest a diversity of tree saps and other wild foods from their own woodlands through forest farming, a sustainable way to cultivate and gather specialty crops within a protected forest canopy.
Patagonia, Allbirds, Timberland, and more are among a growing list of fashion companies investing in regenerative agriculture. Timberland currently offers regenerative leather offerings and is looking to build the world’s first regenerative rubber supply system for footwear by 2023.
Being more environmentally conscious can help brands reach new customers and boost loyalty with existing ones. Consumers are willing to pay, so now it’s up to brands to make good on their commitment to sustainability—and to determine which elements of an environmentally-friendly, sustainable brand matter most.
Wondering which sustainability elements are the right direction for your brand to start going green?