Interview: Social Responsibility in Food/Consumer Products Industry

JWT Intelligence recently interviewed me, focusing on social responsibility and sustainability in the food and consumer product industries. Jessica Vaughn did a *terrific* job on the piece, which is posted here. Some excerpts are below as well.

You told Time that you live in a way that aligns with your values—you create only about a coffee can worth of garbage a year. How do you do this?

The first step is to decide whether you really need to buy something, and often we really don’t. If you need to buy something, do you need to get it new? Usually you can get it secondhand without packaging. If I do need to buy it new, I look for the option that has the least packaging or no packaging. Almost all my food I buy in bulk. If I do need packaged goods, I look for recyclable or compostable packaging.

Sustainability is a term that’s thrown around very loosely these days. How would you define it?

Ensuring we are not having negative social, environmental or economic impacts. I would go further to say it means we are working to have a positive impact on all those areas. We are facing global poverty, environmental degradation, our economy is in trouble, there’s inequity around the world, and there is a need for restoration.

How has the environmental movement changed in recent years?

It has become more mainstream. It’s much more on the American consciousness. It does seem that the interest in environmentalism has been sticking for the last few years, more than it has in the past…Right now climate change is a big issue, but those other issues are still important. You do see a lot of interaction with the environmental movement and the social justice movement—bringing green job training and opportunities to the inner cities, for example, so the green economy is built in a way that’s fair for all across the globe.

What are the key issues in these realms that are on consumers’ minds today?

Climate is a big issue. What’s behind the climate issue is largely energy use—fuel and electricity. Consumers are most concerned about environmental impacts that hit their pocketbooks or hit them personally. They’re also concerned about health and cost. When you look at the top things consumers care about, it tends to be electricity use, fuel use, the packaging waste they have after using something and then product toxicity. Consumers are buying lots of local and organic food because they feel it’s safer and healthier. They’re also buying more energy-efficient products—light bulbs, energy-efficient cars or non-toxic products.In terms of the social justice issue, there’s certainly more awareness of worker safety and how much workers are getting paid. People are concerned about things like sweatshops, and when they hear about child slave labor in the agricultural sector, that’s a big concern. There’s growing concern about U.S. jobs being lost, particularly because of the economic downturn…

Many consumers are really learning the ins and outs of environmental impact and ethical business practices. Plus, tools on their smartphones give them information as they buy. What does this mean for brands and companies?

Companies really need to communicate, because the information that’s out there in terms of product reviews is based on third-party assessments. If companies aren’t actively engaging and communicating their practices, they’re really missing the boat, because they’re not going to get positive points in those kinds of databases. Companies need to be CSR reporting, putting information on their website or reaching out to one of the primary third-party rating groups like GoodGuide [excerpted here]…

What role can brands play as promoters of environmental sustainability, CSR or social justice? And what is the best way for brands to communicate their green behaviors without sounding trite?

Brands have the opportunity to engage consumers as well as their own employees in relevant positive environmental actions, and you do see a number of companies doing that already. One of the best programs I’ve seen is Starbucks’ Shared Planet, where they ask people to pledge to volunteer or to bring their own cup. Simple actions like that can begin to make a difference. Summed together, it’s pretty huge. But again, brands need to figure out the relevant message for their brand and product. [text excerpted]….

Which corporations are doing it right when it comes to all these issues?

Again, Starbucks has done a great job of figuring out what’s relevant to their consumers and then addressing those issues. [text excerpted]….

On Organic Valley’s website, there is a calculator where you can plug in how many gallons of organic milk you purchased and it will tell you the amount of pesticides, hormones and greenhouse gas emissions you prevented from getting into the environment by buying from their farms. It’s really engaging, and it’s on their packaging as well.

Stonyfield has a fabulous campaign. They have a lot of information on their packaging about climate change impact, and they helped found Climate Counts. They also have Bid with Your Lid, where a couple of times a year they give money to charities—you can enter the code on your lid on the website and bid for a charity. They’ve really engaged folks around philanthropy as well as climate change [text excerpted]….

….aticle continues here.

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This entry was posted in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) & Sustainability Strategy, Freelance Work & Media Placements and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Interview: Social Responsibility in Food/Consumer Products Industry

  1. Cironstone says:

    I agree. My latest article argues the csr and social media connection. I talk about the active consumer. check it out and share your thoughts!
    http://cironstone.wordpress.com/2011/05/03/active-consumers-seeking-corporate-responsibility-in-the-sge-of-social-media/

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