Incremental sustainability steps will win--despite the critics

The blogs are full of bluster railing about what they perceive as too-slow developments in eco-friendly packaging. But those who do it best didn’t get there overnight.

The semi-informed cyberspace critics who lash out in droves each day with missives about packaging’s impact on the environment won’t be happy until every last package is optimally eco-friendly, and they express their disdain for any effort that merely takes incremental steps to achieve this goal.

One such rant came earlier this week from a Web site called EcoFunctional, self-described as “news, tips and resources for living an eco-friendly life.” It criticized Coca-Cola’s introduction of a new plastic beverage bottle made from 30% renewable resources. Coca-Cola’s effort is a step forward. Changes such as this are a huge undertaking at large consumer product companies, and these improvements will take time, but they’re coming more steadily and consistently.

Some of the harshest critics of packaging like to point to companies such as Aveda as models for how a truly successful sustainability effort should be done. What the naysayers don’t understand is that Aveda’s sustainability program evolved over many years, with the company taking many, many baby steps to get where it is today.

That certainly appears to be what Coca-Cola and other consumer product companies are attempting to do as well. Aveda just started much earlier and therefore is significantly further along curve.

Aveda advises packaging teams at other consumer packaged goods companies to take incremental steps so that reaching the goal of “sustainable packaging” can be achieved in manageable phases. Too many companies have tried it the critics’ way—attempting to achieve everything at once. That often has bred frustration with the end result of doing nothing at all.

And consider this: All of us have been at the homes of friends and family who think nothing of tossing every glass bottle and every aluminum soda can in the wastebasket along with the rest of their trash. While consumer product companies are working to create packaging that requires less material and that is better for the environment, consumers have to take responsibility and do their part, too. Otherwise, even a perfectly recyclable package is nothing more than fodder for landfills.

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