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Roundtable: Eco-Friendly Pet Products

Posted: August 16, 2013, 11:15 a.m. EDT


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Manufacturers and store owners share a common goal to provide products that protect the Earth and pets.

Panelists

Moderator

Biff Picone, co-owner with his wife of Natural Pawz in Houston. Sandy Chebat, editor, Natural Pet Product Merchandiser
William Chen, founder and owner of P.L.A.Y. (Pet Lifestyle And You), maker of eco-friendly pet beds, in San Francisco.
Paul Fidrych, general manager of Cycle Dog Earth Friendly Pet Co. in Portland, Ore.
Akash Punjabi, owner of Doggy Style Pet Shop, selling pet products such as toys, litter and more, in Chicago.

Eco-friendly, earth friendly and going green all are terms increasingly bandied about these days by many consumers, manufacturers, independent business owners and more. However, acting in an environmentally conscious and responsible manner can take different forms. In the pet category, it can mean creating beds, collars, toys and more from recycled materials otherwise destined to landfills.

Two manufacturers and two pet store owners shared with Natural Pet Product Merchandiser what good environmental stewardship means to them, as well as their efforts to further the cause and bring healthful, eco-friendly products to pets.
 
NPPM: What constitutes eco-friendly in the pet product market?

Fidrych: All of our products are made from postconsumer recycled materials and are eco-friendly. It’s definitely turned into a marketing term.
Some companies deem themselves eco-friendly and define it in many different ways. You can say recyclable is eco-friendly, but that would mean every telephone book in the world is eco-friendly, because telephone books are recyclable as well. customers have all these messages in front of them that things are green and eco–friendly, and it’s kind of tough because their education level is only as good as what they see.

Our mission is to keep materials out of landfills, so we reclaim materials that were used for something else and slated to go into landfills, and we turn them into our products.

Picone: There is a wave called eco-friendly today as there was with natural foods a couple years ago. In addition to looking at reusables, we look at the ingredients in the products we use and evaluate how friendly they are to the environment. We want to make sure, for example, that there are no harsh chemicals in the shampoo we use so that when it goes down the drain it’s not causing problems.

It’s the same thing with cleaners. You not only look at reusables, but you also need to look at some of the products that you purchase and sell and find out what that chemical or the makeup of that product doing to the environment.

Paul Fidrych
Paul Fidrych’s background is in the outdoor industry, and he joined his wife Lanette, owner and founder of Cycle Dog, in 2011.

Chen: At the higher level, we believe eco-friendly extends to more than just the product. We think it’s about everything a company does to help reduce the environmental impact.

For our pet beds, we use postconsumer plastic bottles and save those bottles from going into landfills. That’s the material piece, but there’s more to it. In the whole manufacturing process, we look at where there are places to make a difference.

For example, what’s the packaging or what’s the consumption? What about the waste to make the entire supply chain? We’re trying to do the right thing, and there is a wave of companies trying to do that.

NPPM: What are some of the new materials being used in eco-friendly pet products?

Fidrych: Obviously it’s a trend that’s happening in the materials world, so you’ve got the large material suppliers looking at this trend and how to capitalize on it.

Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) fill in the beds is one. We are using reclaimed materials; recycled materials go through processing. Basically you take these water bottles out of landfills, but they still need to be processed and then made into things. Our materials are made ourselves; we actually go out, find inner tubes, collect them ourselves, bring them back and repurpose them.

We’re going to see earth-friendly and eco-friendly becoming more important, and you’re going to see more materials manufacturers taking advantage of it. You’re going to see a lot of other materials out there that are using postconsumer recyclables or other means to help out the environment.

Punjabi: I have seen recycled rubber from worn-out tires being used for dog toys, rubber mats and more. I’ve also heard of manufacturers using re-claimed or organic cotton for toys and beds. It’s still a new process, and people are trying to learn more about it.

Picone: From talking to people, one interesting thing is plant-based polymer that can be used in poop bags to make them biodegradable and more environmentally friendly than plastic. There also are more organic products, such as catnip, where you’re not using the harsh chemicals to grow or fertilize the crops; what you’re doing is natural, and the resulting products are eco-friendly.

Chen: We have seen a lot of companies come out with biodegradable poop bags, and it must be a trend. Another trend is fabrics that come with soil-based ink.

Akash Punjabi
Akash Punjabi has always had a passion for animals and is a strong believer in taking care of pets the right way, including providing shelter, the right diet and exercise, care and attention that every animal deserves.

NPPM: What are pet owners’ top concerns or demands for these eco-friendly products?

Punjabi: Most people want something major, such as biodegradable poop bags. We have Simplified toys and West Paw Designs, which are considered eco-friendly, as well as organic catnip. Customers want something that doesn’t harm the Earth or pets in the long run, and they’re looking at less-toxic dyes that are easy on their pets and don’t cause harm to the Earth.

Picone: The thing about eco-friendly in our stores is that people are not demanding it, but they appreciate it.

There are two themes I see from pet owners today. One is that people like to shop local. The second is that they want to be good stewards of the environment. A lot of people who care about and shop for their pets also are good people who care about the environment. They appreciate the fact that we try to bring in eco-friendly products in every category we can.

The good news for us is more manufacturers are embracing them. We’re better off and our customers are better off because we have a wider selection of eco-friendly products to offer them, and people appreciate it.

Fidrych: Retailers, if you ask your customers to rate the most important thing on something like a dog toy and give things such as durability, price value, performance, looks and greenness, where does green fall on that scale?

Picone: The greenness of it is basically the closing thing because everybody’s going to look at durability and the price. The eco part of it sort of clinches the deal.

Punjabi: I agree. It’s always durability and the price point, and eco and greenness is the end fact. It’s more like a selling point, and it can close the deal.

NPPM: What challenges have you found in this category?

Fidrych: One of the challenges is that because people feel good about doing something green and don’t necessarily care what it is, manufacturers are taking advantage of that. They might take a nongreen product, use a little soy-based ink, and say it’s green.

A challenge for us as a manufacturer, and working with retailers, is getting the message to consumers about what really makes a product green. What truly makes it good for the Earth? We’re fighting a sea of greenwashing from many manufacturers.

Chen: Many companies are trying to do the whole greenwashing thing. Because green or eco-friendly are not federally regulated terms, consumers and retailers are becoming morediligent and educated when it comes to choosing products. It’s important for us to really educate or showcase what makes a product green. For example, our packaging says 180 bottles are prevented from going into the landfill because of this particular dog bed. Another is getting certified by Green America. Consumers recognize well-known certifications or organizations, and they notice such proof of quality.

Biff Picone
With more than 25 years of experience in the high-tech industry, with a focus on business development and management, Biff Picone’s expertise is in developing and growing successful businesses. He actively pursues opportunities to aid local animal welfare organizations, forming strong and lasting community partnerships, as well as philanthropic initiatives.

Fidrych: Being truly eco-friendly usually costs more money from the development/manufacturing side, so if consumers put that last and put price value and performance first, then that’s leading manufacturers toward finding easy ways to greenwash the products. That’s what you’re seeing in the marketplace that makes it quite challenging.

Picone: We don’t sell on price. A good durable toy is going to be priced competitively and differentiate itself, and there is a cost for eco-ness whether it’s greenwashed or pure repurposing, and people recognize that fact and they’re willing to pay it. They’re not always looking for the lowest price.

NPPM: How much does being a green company affect consumers’ buying habits?

Picone: Eco-friendly is something we do every day in our stores. For example, we’ve got 13 locations, and we get an amazing amount of cardboard every week in boxes that are shipped to us, in trays of food that are left and more. From Day 1, we have recycled 100 percent of our cardboard. We take it to the local county recycling center at our expense, and we recycle it. We also recycle and shred all paper.

We sell the same kind of green-friendly cleaners in our stores because we’re very concerned that something used on the floors might not be healthy or good for dogs. We look at every cleaner we use and every method we use internally to create the least amount of waste and to make sure they’re as eco-friendly or green as possible.

Punjabi: We have one store, so we make sure boxes are broken down and then recycled. We also shred paper, and we don’t toss it away in the garbage.

We also use biodegradable poop bags for our store cat, as well as recycled bags for our customers. Instead of getting plastic bags, we made reusable recycled bags with our name and logo on them that we give out to customers.

NPPM: Have you received customer feedback from these activities?

Punjabi: My customers definitely appreciate what we’re doing. Time and again they bring the bags back for others to use, and most of the people who do not require a bag will not take one.

Picone: I like that poop bag idea. I have to find out more about that. Our customers see and appreciate the effort we make in our stores, and we try to live what we believe. It builds loyalty because we care about the environment.

Fidrych: Like these guys, it’s a philosophy with our company, so we look at being earth-friendly in everything we do. So, for instance, we reuse every cardboard box that we get. It takes space and effort to do that, but we think it’s important.

William Chen
Unable to find the perfect bed for his pug Momo, William Chen set on a mission to create pet products that are better for pets, people and our planet. Through the Warm Bellies Initiative with the Petfinder Foundation, P.L.A.Y. has donated hundreds of mats to homeless pets around the country. Additionally, P.L.A.Y. has partnered with the International Fund for Animal Welfare to help reduce the commercial exploitation of animals, protect wildlife habitats and assist animals in distress.

We also separate all our materials and recycle everything. Because we manufacture in the United States, if there is a problem with one of our products, we don’t throw it away and send another one back; we actually repair it. People understand that, and they like that.

Chen: It’s all the little things a company does that make a difference. We recycle cardboard at every stage along the process, even if we have to spend a little money. For example, on all the packaging we print on paper that is Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified. It’s not the cheapest, but we can rest assured that the paper comes from a very sustainably managed paper source. Consumers recognize those efforts.

NPPM: How much of the eco-friendly focus is a trend versus a legitimate concern?

Picone: We try to be as BPA-friendly as possible, and we do not carry any latex products. We have talked to veterinarians and feel that animals are not excluded from the concerns and issues people have for humans and BPA. We also primarily carry stainless-steel bowls because of no BPA, and when we tell customers the reason, they appreciate that.

Manufacturers of canned pet food are making strides in getting BPA out of the lids and other things that have contained it in the past. We’re really behind that.

Fidrych: Especially on the manufacturing side, we tend to be safer than necessary. With our travel bowls, we use FDA-approved, food-grade material. It costs more, but when it comes to the pet safety, you want to lead.

Picone: It doesn’t always come down to price, but it comes down to the commitment, the values, the integrity and the goal of the suppliers, and that’s why you guys are successful. That’s an important feature, and it’s something that, as a retailer, I appreciate.

Fidrych: Green is no longer just a trend. It’s become more of a must-have in the pet world. Next is the education process, and consumers will learn and be able to discern the differences between greenwashing and what truly is eco-friendly.

Chen: Going forward, green will just be part of the lifestyle; people might not even talk about it but expect it. We worry that customers will get desensitized by greenwashing, but manufacturers and retailers must figure out to what degree these products truly are green or outstanding and make a difference to our planet.

Options will continue to grow, so manufacturers must continue to innovate and find ways to make the products better, as well as greener. At the same time, we must understand what retailers and consumers want and find active ways to provide that information.

Picone: This is not a fad; it’s is the way of the future. The people who hide behind greenwashing will go away, but the ones who are doing it, living it, breathing it and believe in it will be successful. <HOME>

 



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