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Why Being Green Has Become an Imperative for Manufacturers


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West Paw recently opened its doors to its community as part of an effort to change people’s perceptions about today’s manufacturing environment and draw attention to the career opportunities it offers.

West Paw

In the pet industry, sustainability is a concept that is getting harder to ignore. Many industry participants report that pet owners are increasingly seeking products from companies that focus on operating in the most socially and eco-conscious ways possible—and the proof, they say, will be in the sales. 

Consumers, particularly millennials, expect companies to address environmental and social issues in their products, manufacturing and supply chains. 

In fact, Spencer Williams, owner and CEO of Bozeman, Mont.-based West Paw, said sustainability “is a must-have when it comes to attracting millennial shoppers.”

“Sustainability matters in the pet industry because, like anything you put out in the world, you want to make sure it does more good than harm,” Williams said. “People are always going to purchase dog toys, beds, leashes and collars for their dogs, so buying products that are manufactured in a sustainable manner is a way to vote for taking care of the earth with your dollars.” 

The certified B Corporation manufactures dog toys using eco-friendly and recycled materials, such as its proprietary Zogoflex, a recyclable plastic blend used to produce toys that customers are encouraged to recycle by sending them back to the company when they have outlived their usefulness. The company is also a founding member of the Pet Sustainability Coalition (PSC), a not-for-profit organization whose mission is to advance business through practices that are environmentally and socially conscious, as well as profitable.

Azusa, Calif.-based Cardinal Pet Care, a manufacturer and marketer of dog products and a member of PSC, has practiced sustainability since its beginning in 1948.

“The definition of ‘sustainability’ is rather simple,” said owner Tony de Vos. “It means thinking about the future and making business plans and decisions that will ensure enough resources for future generations. Rather than just focusing on the financial bottom line, businesses need to look at the triple bottom line.”

The triple bottom line refers to taking into consideration people, the planet and profit when it comes to business practices. Proponents of this perspective assert that companies that focus solely on the economic benefit will ultimately suffer in the long run when they lose their customer base or the supplies they require to make their products no longer exist. 

“In order to make sure we have future customers, pet parents and pets, and future employees and vendors to care for those customers, we need to ensure that the environment and communities they live in are healthy and well taken care of,” de Vos said, adding that whether developing a new product, serving a customer or working with staff, the company always makes sure to consider how decisions would impact all parties.

Many consumers today are highly educated regarding pet products, and their purchases indicate what they are looking for in the products they buy for their pets. Research conducted by PSC on why people purchase from a certain brand consistently shows that they buy from brands with a strong commitment to sustainability, according to Williams.

Caitlyn Bolton Dudas, executive director of PSC, agreed, pointed out that consumers’ purchases are directly linked to what they value. 

“Consumers increasingly want to know where and how things are made and whether or not they align with their values,” Bolton Dudas said. “Retailers that are best able to integrate sustainability, along with quality, price and delivery, to meet these demands will outperform their peers.” 

Understanding this connection between people’s values and their buying decisions is important for pet industry participants, especially retailers, many insiders assert, because stores that supply products that better align with their customers’ values might have a better chance of outlasting their competition. 

Michael Levy, founder of Pet Food Express, a multistore chain in California, can attest to the importance of embracing a sustainability program and supplying consumers with products from brands committed to their ecological footprint.

“Our customers tend to be very focused on sustainability,” he said. “I believe that sustainability is one piece of our overall culture that ultimately gives us an edge over the national pet chains, which do not have the same focus.”

The most recent PSC-conducted study showed that retailers lag behind other businesses in the pet industry when it comes to sustainability practices. Responses demonstrated that 50 percent of retailers surveyed do not have a sustainability program implemented at all, which is 20 percent higher than all other sectors in the industry.

Incorporating sustainability into the core of a business can seem daunting—and costly—in the beginning. For this reason, PSC develops custom roadmaps to simplify each member’s process.

Businesses can incorporate sustainability at their level, taking small steps that will eventually yield long-term benefits.

“Sustainable business practices can help retailers address three major areas of business success—consumer loyalty, employee attraction and retention, and decreasing overhead costs,” Bolton Dudas said. 

Those concerned about the financial impact of going green can quell their fears.

In its short existence—the organization recently celebrated its fifth birthday—PSC has seen several members gain huge monetary successes. One company saw a $52,000 return after decreasing waste at its manufacturing facility, the organization reported, and another discovered an entirely new market where its product is an environmental achiever. 

Additionally, PSC’s members operate on a collaborative premise. While they may be competitors in the marketplace, they believe that working together on sustainability will help the industry overall. 

“The more we work together, the stronger and more resilient the industry as a whole will be,” de Vos said. “Collaboration is the key to success. Resources are finite, and, therefore, in order for businesses to survive in this global economy, they must come together to share best practices.”

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