25 August 2014

Doing and making the right things in a super-connected world - GAP

Patricia Cameron 
InfoStream Guest Author

"In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity." 

Albert Einstein 

Recent media articles on the (un)sustainability of pet ownership, and closing of more big box pet stores in Canada are just two indications of changing times.  While many businesses are sleep walking toward a future that looks identical to the past, some businesses are seeing the opportunities in realities that others may ignore or deny. 

As it is currently configured, the pet retail sector is no different than other industries in our consumer society - that is, heavily reliant on a global system of production and consumption that is unsustainable, and in many cases toxic and wasteful, both in the products produced and to the environment. Indeed, the current industrial model is based on a "cradle-to-grave" process - raw materials are sourced using an enormous amount of energy, producing large amounts of emissions, and often using toxic chemicals and leaving devasted landscapes in the wake. The materials are processed using yet more energy and chemicals, shipped using even more energy, sold, used and then as “waste” are disposed of - leaving society to deal with massive, toxic landfills. 

While grim, this reality presents a huge opportunity to businesses that want to start now on what will be inevitable - creating products that from sourcing and processing of materials to disposal are neutral or nurturing to the earth and all life forms. 

In their book, Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things, a Manifesto, Michael Braungart and William McDonough discuss how designing products such that all elements of a product nourish life while the product is in use and when disposed of (e.g. through composting or “upcycling" to new products), and the production process is free of toxic and dangerous ingredients.  

In food industries, we see some positive, if reluctant, movement toward animal welfare and humane practices, largely in response to animal welfare campaigns and growing consumer awareness of and concern about low animal welfare standards in global food industries. When finally acting in response to campaigns and concerns, the PR glow shed on the company is less warm than it would be if the company had pro-actively done the right (humane and environmentally friendly) thing.  

For example, in Aug 2014, Big Food giant Nestle announced it was adopting much stronger animals welfare standards. Nestle’s Chief Procurement Officer, Kevin Petrie was quoted as saying,  In the digital world, everyone has a smartphone and they want to know where things come from and share that information. [people want to know] 'Is it good for me? Is the quality good? Has it been responsibly sourced?' 

As Mr. Petrie of Nestle’s suggests, it’s never been harder to cover up bad products and practices, and people are increasingly concerned with issues of health, well-being, environmental damage, and animal welfare. There is huge opportunity for pet industry companies that actively embrace this reality and pro-actively do and make the right things. 

What is your company doing to protect the planet?  Have you looked at a cradle-to-cradle strategy to eliminate toxic waste and nurture the earth?  Are you afraid of having people film anything in your operations?  Does your business have animal practices, the best defence you have for is “It’s tradition”? The answers to these and other questions should tell you whether your business is ready to take advantage of today’s emerging opportunities.

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