Adweek.com recently had an interesting story about green marketing that started with a plastics-related example.
The story was “True Green? Determining what's really green is tricky. Marketing it is even trickier.” It lead with an example from Neil Grimmer, co-founder of Nest Collective, an Emeryville, Calif., company that makes organic baby food.
Having packaging that consumers consider environmentally friendly is important to companies like Nest Collective. They serve a sector of the market where having a sustainable image is critical.
So the company did its homework when it developed the packaging for its Plum Organics brand — a certified organic baby food with no high-fructose corn syrup, no trans fats and no artificial ingredients. Instead of going with the typical glass jar/metal closure that you see on most baby food, it selected a thin plastic pouch.
Nest Collective said the package accomplishes two goals that help reduce the environmental impact of its product: waste reduction and lessening the energy used in manufacturing and transportation. The firm notes its soft-sided pouch is 10 times lighter than the traditional glass jar and cap, and requires less time and energy to produce. That translates to less transportation in freight, reduced greenhouse gases and lower cost.
Competing baby-food brands also take up to 14 times the amount of landfill space of the pouch.
So, what's the problem?
It's plastic. To many consumers — at least to the target audience for Plum Organics — that automatically means it's not green.
So the company is faced with a decision. Should executives keep the plastic pouch that their research tells them is the more sustainable choice? Or should it switch to glass because that's what consumers assume is green?
The Adweek.com story points out that frequently plastic packaging is “a lot more ecologically friendly” than alternative materials, but marketers are faced with a difficult task — explaining the advantages of plastics to consumers — including some who have preconceived notions that plastics = bad for the environment.
Sure, companies like Nest Collective could spend their marketing dollars convincing customers that their plastic packaging is sustainable. And many people in the plastics industry expect them to do just that. After all, they benefit from the more sustainable choice too — especially if it means energy savings.
But why should they? Why should they even devote limited and valuable space on their packaging to justifying their choice of materials?
I think that's a message that's the responsibility of the plastics industry — both the materials suppliers and the processors/converters that make the packaging.
But don't hold your breath waiting for an effective campaign. The attitude these days seems to be to let Wal-Mart decide what's sustainable.
Loepp is managing editor of Plastics News and author of “The Plastics Blog.”