The pet trade worldwide is slowly embracing eco-friendly practices and products—but cost has hindered the movement.
By Wendy Bedwell-Wilson
Being kind to the environment can be expensive, and that expense has slowed overall consumer demand for eco-friendly products across the globe—but that hasn’t stopped companies from jumping on the “green” bandwagon, reported pet product manufacturers.
Producers poised on the eco-friendly movement’s cutting-edge understand that the worldwide trend is here to stay, and they’re doing what they can to operate sustainably and produce goods that benefit the environment while keeping costs affordable.
“At international trade shows, [we’ve found that] in some countries, people aren’t willing to pay for ‘green’ and ‘eco-friendly’ yet,” said Chris Onthank, founder of Dog Gone Smart Pet Products based in Wilton, Conn. “Some South American countries and even some of the European countries are not up to speed on environmentally friendly or green products.
“Globally, I see the green movement catching on now,” he continued, noting that when his company first introduced its biodegradable bed one year ago, his German and Dutch distributors told him people weren’t yet ready to shell out cash for green pet products. “But now, Germany is starting to buy green products. They’re starting to catch on in Europe and Australia, and the latter jumped on the green bandwagon much quicker than even some of the European countries did.
“Over time, the world is going to catch up,” he added. “They’re going to see that we really need to be more environmentally focused with the products that we’re using.”
As seen at international trade shows and in pet trade magazines, such as Italy’s Hobby Zoo and Germany’s PET Worldwide, the green and eco-friendly revolution has begun. Trade show booths and advertisements tout companies’ environment-conscious products and practices.
Overall, eco-conscious pet-product manufacturing trends center on reused and recycled components, sustainable and natural materials, energy-efficient manufacturing practices, and durable designs.
Martin Brooks, production and export manager for Hilton Herbs Ltd. in Somerset, England, said that because customers balked at the idea of paying extra for eco-friendly, his company decided to offer discounts for reusing packaging.
|Green credentials: In addition to manufacturing a range of earth-friendly pet products, Cardinal Pet Care, based in Azusa, Calif., operates in a 100 percent solar-powered facility.|
Photo courtesy of: Cardinal Pet Care
“People would like to buy more ‘environmentally friendly’ product but often are unwilling to pay any extra for it,” Brooks said. “To this end, we offer a discounted rate for ‘refill’ bags of our main equine products, which usually come in recyclable plastic tubs. The idea is that once the initial tub is purchased, top-up bags can then be purchased.”
The company also uses a cardboard shredding machine to transform landfill fodder into packaging material, Brooks said, adding that the company’s corporate culture has encouraged environmentally conscious practices since its inception in 1990.
“To reduce waste, we reuse boxes that goods arrive in, recycle them by shredding and using them for packaging, and have boxes made for shipping our own products, thereby minimizing the cardboard used and the space inside the box,” he said. “There is no greater crime than shipping air.”
Barbara Button, marketing and product development representative for Richell USA Inc. in Grand Prairie, Texas, said that her company recently launched a line of bamboo pet gates, an eco-friendly addition to its already environmentally conscious product lineup.
“Like rubber wood, which we use on all our other pet gates, bamboo is another eco-friendly material,” she said, adding that the products are made in China under the watchful eye of quality control employees from the company’s corporate base in Toyama, Japan. “It’s very durable, and it takes on a lot of different finishes. And it reproduces itself almost instantly. It doesn’t take a lot of care to actually maintain the plant, and it grows abundantly, especially in Asia.”
Button said that once consumers understand how rubber wood and bamboo pet gates are environmentally friendly alternatives—and not the product of deforestation—they’re more apt to purchase.
“With the wood pet gate, the first instinct that people have when I tell them it’s an eco-friendly wood, they’re surprised because they don’t consider wood as environmentally safe,” she said. “Everybody thinks, you’re chopping trees down, you’re actually hurting the environment. But when we explain that they’re sustainable materials, they’re intrigued.”
In addition to manufacturing a range of earth-friendly pet products, Cardinal Pet Care, based in Azusa, Calif., operates in a 100 percent solar-powered facility, reported Suzy Fucini, company spokesperson.
“Undertaken with the Solar Partnership Program of the City of Azusa, the conversion has taken Cardinal completely off the power grid,” she said. “In fact, the company is harvesting so much power from its solar collection system that it now actually has a ‘negative carbon footprint’ and sending electricity back to its local utility.”
Cardinal hasn’t stopped there. The company has also installed energy-efficient T-5HO lamps, an energy management system with daylight-harvesting skylights, motion sensors that turn off lights in vacated areas, and a new “cool roof” coating that reflects heat and keeps temperatures 50 to 60 degrees cooler than traditional roofs on hot summer days, Fucini said.
“These changes have reduced the energy load so significantly that Cardinal has been able to install air conditioning in its factory—something that has greatly increased employee morale,” she said.
Durable products means less waste in landfills, Onthank said, and his team has designed green and eco-friendly goods that last—and follow worldwide safety standards and regulations. The fabrics used in his pet beds, apparel and accessories, for example, incorporate technology that uses no PFOAs or PFOSs, which are carcinogens that the European Food Safety Authority study has found to increase rates of liver and thyroid cancer in rats.
“Our pet products are PFOA and PFOS free,” he said. “In the EU, new legislation came into effect in 2008 regulating the marketing and use of PFOS in all member states. It restricts permissble levels of PFOs in textiles or other coated materials to below one micorgram per square meter—or to 1 ppm. We are not aware of any other repellent fabric finish competitor globally that claims its products are both PFOA- and PFOS-free.”
|Eco-consciousness times two: Durabilty means less waste in landfills, and goods that are produced with environmentally friendly processes and materials cause less harm to the earth and its denizens.|
Photo courtesy of: Dog Gone Smart Pet Products
Onthank added that he’s also mindful of the materials’ impact on the earth. “There is a big trend toward silver-based antimicrobials, but this is not good for the environment,” he said, noting that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is cracking down on their use. “[When washed with] even one capful of bleach, that silver will go right into the wash, into the water and into our environment.”
Instead, his company uses a non-silver-based bacteriostatic that inhibits the spread of bacteria that can cause doggy odor, he said.
Pet product manufacturers worldwide have jumped on the green and eco-conscious bandwagon—but are consumers willing to pay extra? According to Grail Research LLC’s 2009 study “The Green Revolution,” consumers will continue to buy and switch to green, even in a recession.
The report’s findings indicated that, “Almost two-thirds of consumers have changed their green purchase behavior in response to the recession. However, the vast majority of these people have not abandoned the category; they have either switched to less expensive green products or cut back on their usage of green products.”
For retailers selling eco-friendly products, this means that they should offer a range of choices and price points, educate their sales staff, and use point-of-purchase materials to coax customers to buy green, Onthank said.
“Retailers should understand visuals, whether it’s a larger hang tag, a shelf talker, a video monitor that describes the technology, or even literally a display of some sort that tells you what the product does and why,” he said.
Pet lovers are already “nature people,” he added, so eco-friendly should be an easy sell. <HOME>
“In the pet industry, being ‘green’ is a faster-growing trend than in other areas of retail,” Onthank concluded. “People who love pets generally love the environment.”
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