Sustainability in the Pet Industry
Sustainability is a growing trend that aims to create an eco-friendly future. But what does it actually entail?
There’s a definite shift in the global psyche toward sustainable business practices. Product packaging is covered with phrases that explain how environmentally friendly a company and its products are, and display coloring is shifting to earthy neutrals. Companies everywhere are being influenced to incorporate sustainable practices. From taking small steps to getting certified to attending sustainability events, there’s seemingly endless ways for everyone to get involved.
Although sustainability is a broad concept, in the most simple terms, it’s about taking steps today that ensure the success of future generations, according to Azusa, Calif.-based Cardinal Pet Care’s Tony de Vos, CEO and Kerissa Kelly-Slatten, brand manager and sustainability lead.
Lucas Stock, communications manager at Omaha, Neb.-based Oxbow Animal Health, takes the definition a step further, specifying, “We view sustainable business practices as those practices which are economically viable, socially responsible and environmentally friendly.”
While it can seem overwhelming—and expensive—at first glance, Caitlyn Bolton, executive director of the Pet Sustainability Coalition (PSC), doesn’t see a reason for worry.
“A great example is our project with Camp Bow Wow that identified over $50,000 worth of savings through zero-cost employee behavior changes,” Bolton explains. “We recommend that companies integrate environmental and social impact responsibilities into each employee review and that it be treated like all other responsibilities.”
Some small, inexpensive steps include switching to reusable pens, turning the lights off at the end of the night, using eco-friendly and recyclable envelopes, holding off on getting new store shelving and counters until absolutely necessary, switching from florescent light bulbs to LEDs and going totally or somewhat paperless.
While those steps will make a difference, they’re not enough on their own. It’s a continuous transition, and research and organization are key. A helpful tip is to start off slow and gather inspiration from within.
“Many of the best and most meaningful ideas are inspired by the daily experiences of your team members,” Stock says. “We firmly believe in the walk, crawl, run philosophy when it comes to sustainability… if you’re just starting out, identify key initiatives that are achievable and measurable and make sure you develop timelines to keep your entire organization on track.”
Creating those timelines will inevitably lead to learning about the numerous certifications that companies can hold. The main purpose of certifications is to let potential and current customers know just how eco-friendly and sustainable a company is. However, the actual necessity is up for debate.
De Vos, a founding member of the PSC, and Kelly-Slatten definitely think that it’s necessary, citing the B Corp Handbook’s 10 benefits to becoming certified, which include promising access to a network of leaders, attracting and retaining an engaged workforce, generating press and saving money.
However, Bolton suggests proceeding with caution, explaining that while certifications do play an important role for many companies, they also include limitations. The main one? Cost. If certification is out of a company’s budget, it’s easy for them to get written off.
“Many small farmers cannot afford the organic certification process, and though they may be able to afford organic farming practices, the certification isn’t within their means. This leaves out a portion of supply to the market and doesn’t offer the needed incentive for farmers,” she says.
Bolton also warns that certifications can reduce customer recognition. When put into perspective with the dozens of eco-friendly labels that are littered on packaging, it’s easy to understand that many consumers don’t have the time or inclination to research what each one means, leading them to disregard certifications altogether or make decisions based on limited knowledge.
Even though the jury’s still out, becoming certified is a growing trend. Navigating through the various certifications and their meanings can be difficult for retailers. Luckily, Chris Avery, CEO of Wholesalepet.com, is looking to make that easier. Wholesalepet.com is based exclusively online and carries products from industry leaders to relatively unknown brands that support great causes.
“We have a current initiative to add additional sustainability filters on our site, where you can easily identify suppliers who qualify for certain areas, such as ‘recycled,’ ‘repurposed,’ etc.,” explains Avery.
Shifting toward sustainability is, ultimately, an investment in a company’s future. In the beginning, it can be scary to see large amounts of capital invested with no next-day result. That’s why it’s so crucial to keep the end goal in mind.
To ease concerns, de Vos and Kelly-Slatten assure that, “Consumers are much more concerned about socially responsible companies. They have a choice when purchasing products, and many are choosing to buy products that reflect their own morals and values.”
Cardinal Pet Care strives to create and provide eco-friendly products that improve the lives of people and pets alike. When asked about results they’ve seen from green initiatives, de Vos and Kelly-Slatten rave about the pay-offs. In addition to a smaller carbon footprint, the company’s seen major reductions in energy bills as a result of switching to solar power, overhauling the energy systems, recycling gray water and installing cool roofs.
Wholesalepet.com prides itself on its environmental impact business model, which includes reducing things such as paper usage, warehouses and in-person rep visits. Avery explains, “We think everyone wins from an efficiency standpoint—so as our model grows, you are reducing redundancies and unnecessary physical assets which leads to sustainable savings across the entire channel.”
All in this Together
One of the most important aspects of sustainable business practices is working together and uniting as an industry.
One of the outlets that makes this unification possible is the PSC and its annual Impact Unleashed events. This year’s summit, Impact Unleashed II, took place from Sept. 20 - 21.
“We enhanced features of the event to expand the networking sessions to allow more time to build community, we brought the campfire event on-site to maximize the number of attendees that get to share in one of the most highly-rated pieces of the event and also maintained our commitment to powerful speakers,” summarizes Bolton.
De Vos and Kelly-Slatten, two of the event’s attendees, said that their biggest takeaway was that there is a lot of change taking place within the pet industry, creating a need to collaborate and work together.
“Change, even positive change, can be scary for a lot of people,” they explain. “Sometimes we can get so wrapped up in one particular project we forget we have an entire sustainability community and network that is here to support and grow with us.”
Sustainable business practices are not one and done. Each company has to do its research, figure out what works for them and implement a game plan, whether that be through marketing strategies or the amount of capital that they’re willing to invest. Retailers, business owners and consumers have to realize that at the end of the day, it’s not an independent initiative: it’s industry wide. PB