Companies today are starting to get a sense of the importance of going green, or at least, the importance of being perceived to be going green. Portraying themselves as sustainable, or eco-friendly, or environmentally conscious has proved to be a huge competitive tactic for businesses in trying to get an edge over one another.
It's thanks to the enormous growth in the number of environmentally aware consumers, people who are creating an entirely new market demand which was almost non-existent in earlier generations. You can practically see the dollar signs spinning in the eyes of big name corporations. But really, what could be better? The only way that true change ever comes about is when there is economic incentive.
In a capitalistic society, businesses will do whatever it takes to catch that dollar at the end of the stick. When that dollar equals a more sustainable planet, then we have truly developed a win-win scenario. The tricky part is when companies (and governments) invest in being “less bad”, rather than seeking out alternatives. It's the difference between investing in renewable energy versus investing in polluting less while extracting fossil fuels. Here are four companies trying to reduce their particularly large footprint.
Have you ever felt cheated after you've opened your recently bought bag of chips, only to find that they are half full? Well fortunately for you, Walmart has successfully reduced all product packaging by 5%, but the reasons go far beyond just satisfying your craving. In 2008, Walmart equipped their buyers with a “sustainability score card” in order to evaluate their suppliers before placing an order. This gave Walmart the tools to evaluate their suppliers based on their environmental effects, including those of packaging.
Although suppliers were not paid extra to adhere to Walmart’s 5% goal, they really had no choice, given the size and power of the company that they were dealing with. With such high amounts of carbon emissions spewing out of their fleet of trucks, it’s good to know that they are at least trying to be greener in other ways.
It is widely accepted that our best bet to avoid (or at least delay) global warming is to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. The atmosphere simply can’t handle the amount of carbon dioxide that we are currently emitting (not to mention all the other, worse gasses we're emitting). What we need are alternatives.
Shell won’t discourage us from using their gas, but what they will do is reduce their emissions at oil sands projects. Their Quest Carbon Capture and Storage Project is looking to reduce carbon emissions by 1 million tons each year. The captured carbon would then get stored deep underground where the effects are much less severe. This has followed with government subsidies, but that’s really not new for the oil companies considering our economic dependence.
This isn’t a solution, but the company is at least being better. A question you can ask yourself is whether this merits them referring to their project as “key to addressing climate change,” because it certainly won’t be enough. It’s important to note that being “less bad” doesn't mean you aren't still bad.
On the consumer’s end, Nestle’s water bottles are one hundred percent recyclable. As long as we are responsible, the waste can be handled effectively. The problem is that we really are not; 2.8 billion bottles ended up in landfills just last year. But at least the company is trying to produce their bottles in an environmentally friendly way, right?
Nestle’s “WaterReborn” bottle now uses 50% recycled PET plastics and requires less energy to manufacture. This number is capped off at 50% because there simply isn't enough recycled plastic out there. It’s hard to be sure who to blame in this situation. If consumers recycled more, Nestle would be able to use less energy in manufacturing their bottles and we’d have less landfill issues. But if it wasn't for plastic bottles, we’d never have this problem in the first place.
Maybe it’s not so hard to point the blame, as long as you can point in two directions. But let’s stick to the positives; Nestle is hoping to continue to increase its percentage of recycled PET plastics in their bottles. So once again, this is a matter of being greener, not green.
In 2010, Environment Canada set out regulations limiting the VOC contents in paints, stains and surface removers. Before this, it was estimated that roughly 5 kilotonnes of VOC’s were emitted each year in just the automotive refinishing industry in Canada. Companies and individuals will now be forced to switch to water-based coats to meet the 3.5lb/gallon limit; Environment Canada suspects this will lower VOC emissions by roughly 40%.
However, the Government has “realized”, according to Dulux, that some high-VOC alkyd paints are still essential (metal based paints, certain primers and floor enamel) in today’s paint industry, which are therefore still available. That being said, this is still a huge step forward from where we were not too long ago.
Painting inside is much less “toxic” than it once was, and you barely notice the fumes these days. So what is Dulux doing to go above and beyond this regulation? It is investing more in “clean air choice” zero-VOC products, rather than just low-VOC. Dulux actually launched Canada’s first zero-VOC paint back in 1992, but it has picked up a lot of steam since then and set the tone for almost every other paint manufacturer to follow.
For those who have ever painted, you know how messy it can be. You get it all over yourself, it sticks to your brushes and trays and you’re left with mucky old cans. But this is more than just an annoyance, it is a responsibility bestowed upon the individual and their community to responsibly deal with the waste.
Again, we are seeing a positive trend as more and more paint distributors, hardware stores and municipal waste organizations are helping in the effort to collect and “handle” old cans. Leftover latex paints and cans can be reused in the paint industry, so it’s important to have such collection programs in place to avoid unnecessary waste. The painting industry is certainly moving in the right direction, and hopefully we’ll one day see a majority of zero-VOC products.