Josh Radoff, Tork® Green Hygiene Council™ member and co-founder and principal of YR&G
The ISSA Interclean trade show took place last week in Las Vegas. I took the opportunity to scan the show floor for any new trends in sustainability or hygiene that might be on display for paper, cleaning and hygiene products. In the past few years, companies seemed to be in an arms race to “out green” one another by adding green certifications to products and touting the sourcing of materials and the corresponding health and hygiene aspects of those products.
This year, there was a noticeable lack of green presence at the show. Where it did exist, it seemed like companies were merely trotting out last year’s marketing materials and even those were relegated to some nether corner of the booth’s display.
There are a few explanations for this. The most obvious is that in an economy that continues to plague businesses, businesses first goal is to let go of ideas and high-minded strategies and just get as much product out in front of people at the best price they can. In other words, everyone is reduced to a commodity pusher when no one cares about the aspects that define quality, such as sustainability. While understandable, this is clearly shortsighted and will only create a spiraling race to the bottom. On the other hand, it also leaves a leadership vacuum that will certainly be filled by the company or product line that is willing to cross the next barrier.
The other explanation for this year’s paucity of green is that the market likely hit a saturation point in terms of green certifications. I mean, at this point, who doesn’t have some Green Seal™, EcoLogo™ or some other certification to boast? At one point, there were a few companies out in front of the pack offering third party certified products, and as a result, there was a distinction to be had. Now, however, this sort of thing is a-dime-a-dozen, as is the blizzard of marketing 101 green company and product names like Eco Choice, Eco Force, Green Performance or Purac (because 1950s chemical naming and sustainability initiatives go so well together).
So if sustainability in the cleaning and paper arenas has saturated, what’s next? What’s the next frontier? How could a company come along in 2012 and really move things forward and as a result, fill the vacuum and add a layer of value not yet seen in the market? This is a huge topic, but I would narrow the answer down to two areas:
- Go from having the availability of a green product to being a company that is defined by their green products and where the majority of sales come from these offerings. Even better, target a goal of having 100 percent of products meet some sustainability criteria and start measuring performance against that goal.
- The green behind the green. Products are one thing. What goes on behind the scenes – at the plants, at the corporate level, throughout the supply chain – is still another. The products are the first and most obvious phase of a broader sustainability initiative. Those companies willing to take on the sustainability of the plants, including the embodied energy, carbon and pollutants that go into the products, as well as target suppliers and sourcing efforts and engage with their customers – these are the ones likely to emerge from this down-market saturation with something to say.