Is Your Company Ready To Take Action Against Plastic Pollution?
Best Practices for Kicking Off Your Sustainability Journey
by Rob Ianelli
Companies realize the importance (socially and economically) of taking critical steps toward more sustainable practices. While easy to agree in conversation, every business must evaluate its appetite and ability to execute against those good intentions. The difference between intention and action often comes down to preparation for the process as well as preparation for navigating the inevitable barriers that will be encountered.
Virgin plastic supply chains have a 50-year head start on the PCR market. While emerging companies of the green-era revolution are developing an approachable track to sustainability, the path is not yet clean and tidy. Are your leadership, product, and sourcing teams up to the task?
Advancing any sustainability initiative further than the whiteboarding stage almost always requires support at the executive level, and may even demand board buy-in.
Garnering leadership’s support is particularly prudent when the fundamental shift in practices requires any changes to design, production, sourcing, or the bottom line economics. The cascading effects of even a minor tweak in plastic resin suppliers (for product or packaging) often entails a substantial amount of effort from a cross-section of departments and individuals who must comprehend the intent and scope of the change.
To codify leadership’s support for sustainability initiatives, it must be established as a company-wide priority and integrated into the overall corporate strategy. No longer just a nice-to-have target for teams to tackle when things are going well, a firm executive commitment telegraphs to everyone involved that this really matters in the future of your organization, your personal performance goals (KPI’s) and that true urgency indeed exists.
Management should also be made aware of any financial implications of these actions. Whether it’s a change in the cost of goods sold (COGS)—and any corresponding pricing changes—or simply a modification to existing procurement agreements or relationships, there must be full transparency and no surprise “gotcha” moments that may stall or permanently stymie the initiative. (Protip #1: Check to see if your organization has entered into contract supply agreements with manufacturers who might not be aligned with your internal goals.)
Finally, in situations where the inspiration to embark on a sustainability-driven change comes from the rank-and-file, these cases should also be escalated to the executive level to lock-in their support. Skipping, or delaying that step runs the risk of a cautious stakeholder learning about things elsewhere and quickly hitting the brakes. Pointing to external examples of brands that have made a big splash (and have seen great acceptance) with their sustainability efforts can help ease their concerns.
Manufacturing and Sourcing
When it comes to greening an organization’s use of plastics, manufacturing is possibly the most interested and affected party within the company. The desire to reduce the use of virgin plastics and/or incorporate PCR material into the workflow significantly impacts this area. And, since manufacturing is often outsourced to a third party, organizations must work with purpose and conviction to demonstrate their commitment to achieving their sustainability goal.
For manufacturers, it’s unquestionably a risk to adjust something that is already working and they may have fears about the impact on their equipment, their throughput, their supply chain, and their profit margins. Further, they may even have contractual rights to disregard such a request.
To counteract this, brands should include their manufacturers in the process as early as possible, making them a partner on the path to sustainability with their own skin in the game. Sharing examples of other products that have already successfully transitioned to incorporating PCR in their traditional manufacturing processes is a great way to begin this conversation. Afterall, seeing is believing.
Also keep in mind, while material sustainability is a growing focus for brands, 3rd-party manufacturers have historically handled the sourcing and logistics of virgin resin, since the manufacturing and packaging input-material was often considered an afterthought. Shifting to PCR for any aspect of the manufacturing process should require the brand and manufacturer to collaborate with experts to facilitate some aspects of sourcing new types of resin. In this instance, the importance of finding a trusted partner to shepherd you through a new type of supply chain can make all the difference.
Looking internally at your organization, understand the initiatives of department sourcing. What are their goals? Has this team been educated in sustainability? Does this team have incentives beyond sustainability? While it's natural for sourcing teams to find the lowest bill of sale for material, and their performance goals measured on fractional margins, understanding the difference between pennies in material costs and the uplift in marketing and sales potential is paramount. (Protip #2: Understand if your existing sourcing team is intimately intermingled with your supply vendors and manufacturers. This may explain potential hesitations when introducing a new material.)
Most brands don’t possess a plethora of in-house expertise surrounding materials they’re not already working with steadily. Collaborating with a trusted network of well-aligned sustainable material suppliers can help bridge this gap. The knowhow and experience in finding the perfect PCR can be the difference between program success or failure.
For example, Oceanworks® expertise extends beyond material sourcing and provides validity to the documentation and calculations required to verify the provenance, contents, and impact of the PCR material associated with your project. Working with experts in the sustainable material fields, your company will find a fast-track to what can otherwise be an obscured journey.
While every company should strive to make their products and processes as sustainable as possible, there’s no denying the additional gains that powerful storytelling can have on your initiative’s overall impact. To ensure your company maximizes the benefits of this opportunity, marketing should be a major internal partner from the very early stages, fully bought-in and excited about the new messaging possibilities sustainability initiatives present.
Shaping the story from the onset with your marketing team, allows for cross-department continuity; from the product name and packaging to the go-to-market strategy and tactics. Even a minor product change that boosts a product’s environmental bonafides warrants this level of thinking and execution to maximize the ROI of each endeavor.
As consumers become more demanding of transparency and honest storytelling, the importance of verification and documentation has become essential. Use materials that add value in this domain. Work with suppliers that offer key data on measurable impacts as well as knowledge of best practices from prior successes. Tailoring this message for each audience and selecting the appropriate channels for spreading it contributes heavily to incremental sales and the reputation boost companies deserve after reducing their reliance on virgin plastic.
Don’t take this journey alone
Now it’s time to ask yourself, is your organization ready to take action against plastic pollution? If not, what do you need to do to prepare your business for this worthy endeavor?
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