With offices within sight of the Bristol Channel we are closer than many to the debate surrounding the Severn Estuary “barrier”; a project to build a structure spanning the Severn estuary to generate Green Energy from the power of the tide and waves. In the most basic terms opinion is split between the impacts this will have on the wildlife versus the benefits of greener energy production. By making green energy there will be an impact on the wildlife that uses the estuary. It is of course impossible to produce anything without having some impact on the environment, the animals or the people involved.
As marketing executives and buyers in general become more familiar with “green purchasing” they are starting to delve deeper and ask more pertinent questions.
Compromises and dealing with conundrums thrown up in the course of production and supply are judgements calls we have to make each day. Being clear about them is the only true way to tackle them, there’s no such things as a 100% eco product so being transparent is the best route for distributors, suppliers and the end user.
Below I have tried to answer some of the basic questions we regularly face; the answers to which can be adapted to answer lots of other similar questions you’ll be asked by your customers as they become more inquisitive.
Q. What about the extra energy required to make the recycled products?
A. In many cases there is no more energy required, it requires 40% less energy for example to re-process waste plastic for re-use than create new plastic raw material. However for those occasions where the production of recycled is not as efficient as virgin product I use the example of recycled paper. In the late 60’s and early 70’s the production of recycled paper was far more energy intensive than production of new paper. Had we not stuck with it in those early days and improved the production techniques over the interim we’d not be where we are today where recycled and virgin paper production is equally efficient. In brief the short term pain has created a long term gain. This same principal can be applied across all areas of new product development, not just green products.
Q. Is the product 100% recycled?
A. Where possible we do produce using 100% recycled material but there are parts of products we sell that aren’t. Our pens for example use standard ink refills and mechanisms, our note books have recycled or sustainable paper but use a traditional metal wire to hold them together. If the product doesn’t work exactly as a traditional product the client won’t purchase again. Recycled or eco-friendly products will in that case never shake off the poor reputation gained in the 80’s when copy paper jammed the printers. I was once told in no uncertain terms by a strident environmentalist that he’d not be buying our recycled pens as we used standards inks to print the brands logo, the environmental ink alternative I told him would rub off in his hand and the quality wasn’t good enough. In his words he said “He’d apparently rather buy a regular virgin plastic pen as that supplier wasn’t trying to pass off a product as green”. Biting your nose off to spite your face somewhat.
Q. Do you use environmental inks?
A. Where we can we do, we always strive for best practice. However as I mentioned previously it comes down to quality. If we use soya ink and it comes off as a promotional product it’s not performing the function it was designed for and won’t be bought again. If we need to use traditional print methods but have managed to replace a standard T shirt with an Organic T shirt we’re going some way to doing the right thing. That’s on the assumption of course we endeavor to continually improve our printing inks and techniques. Water based inks require longer drying times and therefore have a greater carbon footprint than plastosol based inks, a conundrum for the printer, the supplier and the end user.
Q. What about the fact that we’re contributing to an industry that produces tons of giveaway items that could be considered wasteful and/or unnecessary?
A. With the best will in the world we’re not going to stop the industry but if we can replace at least some of those virgin giveaways with recycled or other eco-friendly alternatives we achieve 2 things, 1. We stop more waste going to landfill and finite raw materials from being used up 2. We increase people’s awareness of what can be achieved using these materials and therefore encourage greater use of these options
Q. Most items these days can have a little spin applied and be seen as beneficial to the environment, where do we draw the line between what we will and will not include in our range?
A. We’re not after a huge range just a well rounded selection, therefore the first criteria is simple, it must be a suitable business gift, energy saving light bulbs are not your average business gift even though they help the environment, consequently we don’t stock them. Another example would be solar powered calculators, these have been around for ages and most include a battery that’s charged by the solar element, in our opinion this isn’t unique enough or really beneficial enough on the environment to join the range, we’d opt for the water powered calculator using newer technology, a cell that’s powered by water alone. Mouse mats made from polypropylene don’t get in just because PP is better than PVC, mouse pads made from 100% recycled paper and board on the other hand do.
Recyclable doesn’t cut it with us, most things are recyclable and the term is too spurious, they need to be made from something actually recycled in our opinion.
There are plenty more compromises and conundrums we face daily but these highlighted above demonstrate a sensible considered approach to ethical and environmental decision making in a commercial environment. I’m sure there are plenty of differing opinions but we’re doing what we can to make a difference and it’s action rather than words that count.