There was a time when investing in sustainable products could damage a company’s bottom line. Broadly speaking, the public didn’t care. The items weren’t considered that good. And government was responsible for environmental issues, not brands.
Experts say this is no longer the case. Advances in technology, a better understanding of the topic and shifts in consumer demand have made planet-friendly products a priority for CPG manufacturers.
“More and more, people are making the argument that without sustainability you can’t even have a successful business,” said Vance Merolla, worldwide director of global sustainability at Colgate-Palmolive, which saw net sales climb 5% to $16.5 billion last year.
Now, hardly a week goes by without one CPG company or another announcing a new initiative that diminishes its impact on the environment. In mid-January, Kraft Heinz revealed it’s developing a recyclable, fiber-based microwavable cup for its Mac & Cheese line. More recently, Nestlé declared that its Smarties confectionery brand has switched to paper packaging, eliminating 250 million plastic packs sold around the globe each year.
At the same time, pressure to go green has become so strong that some firms no longer want to disclose information pertaining to their sustainability efforts because they hope the results will set them apart from the competition. In other words, the situation has evolved from brands wanting to do less bad, in a defensive sense, to brands taking an offensive approach to win more market share.
Kyle Tanger, managing director and U.S. sustainability consulting leader at Deloitte, explained that five years ago his CPG clients would have encouraged him to share their strategies and innovations on the subject as great fodder for feel-good stories. Now, however, they don’t.
“It actually makes me happy that I can tell you that I can’t tell you,” Tanger said on the increasingly private nature of companies’ sustainability plans.
A toothbrush to keep
This week, Colgate-Palmolive is debuting Keep, a toothbrush made with a reusable aluminum handle and snap-on replaceable brush head. By only tossing out the head when the bristles become worn down—as opposed to the whole toothbrush—consumers can reduce plastic waste by 80%, according to the company.
Colgate-Palmolive, which reports it controls 41% of the manual toothbrush market in the U.S., claims the equivalent of 400 million toothbrushes would avoid ending up in a landfill this year if every manual toothbrush user in the country switched to Keep. (Due to the small size of toothbrushes, most recycling facilities can’t process them. “What is recyclable doesn’t necessarily get recycled,” Tanger said.)