By Al Iannuzzi
The following excerpt is from Greener Products: The Making and Marketing of Sustainable Brands, Second Edition, released this year.
Things will never be the same regarding greener products; the world truly does need more sustainable brands. The stresses on the earth’s systems are very evident and are growing with the expanding global middle class; people are becoming more aware of this fact. There is an increased concern about the amount of pollutants that are found in our food and even in our bloodstreams. The global demand for natural or organic products is growing and doesn’t seem to be stopping.
Natural products like Method and Seventh Generation that once were considered fringe, and sold in health food stores only, are now sought after in mainstream supermarkets. The old stereotype of green products having sub-par performance has been shattered, particularly with game-changers like Green Works®, proving that large multi-nationals can develop and win in the marketplace with a naturals-based product platform.
The pull for sustainably minded products is not limited to consumer marketing. We have seen business-to-business marketing of greener products picking up pace. When chemical companies are making it a point to differentiate their products based on eco-innovation, it’s time to realize that there is something here to pay attention to. Companies are seeing, through life-cycle assessments, that in many cases their biggest environmental impacts come from the acquisition of raw materials, product use, or its end of life. This new knowledge is causing a shift toward greening up products in non-traditional ways. Over recent years, sustainable innovations included cold water laundry detergents, bio-based plastics, take-back programs, and sustainably sourced raw materials, to name a few.
Making products greener is becoming mainstream and moving toward being a requirement alongside efficacy and quality. Reduced environmental impact is being viewed as an “and.” There are some exceptions, but greener products will not command a higher price; customers want to have a product that works and is greener too, but not pay more for it. This customer requirement has spanned all types of businesses; numerous examples have been discussed in this book covering a host of product categories—apparel, chemicals, building products, paper products, food, medical equipment, and packaging.
Building an eco-innovative product requires a team effort and signals from the field must be gathered to gauge customers’ needs. R&D, procurement, operations, and product stewardship groups need to collaborate to build in the desired attributes. A balanced, clear communications program must be melded together by marketing and delivered by sales groups.
Care must be taken when communicating about greener products. First there must be a real authentic science-based story to be told and the message must be simple and transparent to demonstrate how the product or service helps customers with their sustainability needs.
Both customers and companies can make a difference by what they purchase and sell. Fewer resources can be used, good causes are supported, and costs are reduced. When you hit this sweet spot, of having a truly greener product that is communicated in an appropriate way, everyone wins. Customers' needs are met and brand loyalty is built.
The focus on greener products and sustainable brands is here to stay. We can expect that in the coming years that there will be a steady demand for eco-innovative products. The companies that provide these products without increasing costs will be the big winners.
Al Iannuzzi, PhD, is senior director in the Worldwide Environment, Health, Safety & Sustainability (EHS&S) Department at Johnson & Johnson. He leads the Global Product Stewardship program, and is a member of the Worldwide EHS&S Leadership Team. He has over 30 years’ experience in the EHS field and has developed and directs Johnson & Johnson’s Earthwards® greener product design process. Prior to J&J, Al worked for the NJ Department of Environmental Protection and at an environmental consulting firm. Al received his PhD in Environmental Policy from the Union Institute & University in Cincinnati, Ohio, where he researched EHS self-regulation programs. He is the author of the books, Greener Products: The Making &Marketing of Sustainable Brands (CRC Press, 2011) and Industry Self-Regulation and Voluntary Environmental Compliance (CRC Press, 2002) and has written numerous articles and blogs on product stewardship and environmental compliance. Al is an adjunct professor at Indiana University where he teaches on product improvement and sustainability. He has maintained the certification as a qualified environmental professional since 1996 and speaks regularly at sustainability conferences and universities.
Book cover: Taylor & Francis Group, LLC