There’s a great exchange in 1967’s epic film The Graduate:
Mr. McGuire: I want to say one word to you. Just one word.
Benjamin: Yes, sir.
Mr. McGuire: Are you listening?
Benjamin: Yes, I am.
Mr. McGuire: Plastics.
Benjamin: Exactly how do you mean?
Mr. McGuire: There’s a great future in plastics. Think about it. Will you think about it?
If only the world had listened. It would be three more years before the first Earth Day, and more than 50 years later, we can’t stop talking about plastics. Only now it’s about whether, and how, our consumer-oriented world can put the genie back in the bioplastic, 100% recyclable reduced carbon footprint bottle.
I was proud to join last month’s Green by Design conference in Atlanta, an intimate mix of manufacturers, marketers, and agency professionals united in the recognition that the consumer goods industry has contributed significantly to the negative impact we are experiencing in our global environment. More importantly, these same groups are now motivated to take the lead in creating a new equilibrium where a new predominant stakeholder needs to be reconsidered: Mother Nature.
The good news: Most leading manufacturers have gotten on board, dedicated to the earnest pursuit of a healthier planet, with an understanding of the negative business impact of doing nothing. Even pervasive plastic-based companies like PepsiCo are making moves, both with the SodaStream acquisition and Gatorade’s new customized pods and reusable bottles.
And applaud the innovators, many of whom are driven to make the world a better place for their children: Jon Bostock at Truman’s is shaking up the billion-dollar cleaning category simply by taking water out of the selling process. “Raz” Razgaitis, another former senior CPG marketer-turned-entrepreneur, has developed and launched FloWater, a “watercooler” that actually converts water from any source into a distilled state, then re-mineralizes it so that it outputs healthy water with a consistent flavor and mouthfeel, eliminating the need for single-use plastics.
Perhaps most impressive was Unilever, an organization that has clearly committed to the belief that good corporate citizenship will translate into good business. The entire organization has been reengineered to operate with commitment and dedication to achieve their environmental goals. We were introduced to the now-on-the-market Dove 100% recyclable bottle, an internal challenge that the company doubled down on in terms of its potential sustainability, substantially beating its own time and impact targets. In the process, they have changed how upstream and downstream partners operate, which will eventually expedite the mainstreaming of new technologies and workflows.
As a creative brand consultancy with deep experience in CPG, we’ve been tangentially involved in these discussions for years, working in and with supply chains that connect manufacturing and retail. Recently, as part of our company learning series, CBX hosted Tom Szaky, founder and CEO of TerraCycle and Loop, to learn how we can better counsel our clients regarding sustainability opportunities. And, importantly for a brand consultancy like CBX, the Green by Design conference supported a role that we’ve already been playing—helping the brands we work with tell their sustainability stories in their own natural(!) way. As consultants, our success depends on that of our clients, and as we move forward we can only hope that those outside the ever-growing and always-open circle of trust move from green with envy to green within, as embracing our collective responsibility will inevitably push their businesses, and our world, forward in a better way.