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Plastics Stories Help Boost Brands (Who Knew?)

“Storied plastics,” or plastics that are collected by waste stream, sorted by material type, and traced back to the original point of origin, are a good choice of material for use in packaging as companies attempt to improve their sustainability practices, writes Pierre-Francois Thaler, co-founder and co-CEO of EcoVadis (via FoodDive).

Companies that know they need to expand their eco-friendly practices are looking for ways to either limit packaging or to make packaging more sustainable, but that can “leave a hole in the product development process,” Thaler writes. Instead of filling this hole with generic recycled materials, consider storied plastics, he suggests. Storied plastics provide an opportunity for a brand to differentiate itself by giving a product color and background via the story of where its material originated. “The traceable, ‘origin story’ component of material comprised of products and packaging people have interacted with in their own lives can be communicated clearly and effectively to today’s highly discerning consumer,” wrote Tom Szaky, founder and CEO of TerraCycle, in Huffington Post last spring.

Timberland is one company that has found great success using storied material in a product, and then sharing that story to make the product successful. The outdoor clothing company’s Thread line is created from plastic material gathered from the streets and landfills of Haiti. The plastic is made into a raw material called flake, which is then sent to US-based factories where it is turned into fiber and woven into fabric. Timberland and the Thread team share the stories on the Timberland website, which has seen two times the engagement on its social and digital channels compared to any of its other CSR content. And consumers are spending 33% more time on the Thread page than on other pages of the Timberland site, the company says.

Timberland’s success would seem to back up results of a recent Unilever survey that indicates 33% of consumers choose purchases based in part upon the sustainability of the companies behind the brands, which indicates an opportunity for companies to use their environmental initiatives as a driver of sales. More than one in five (21%) of the people surveyed said they would actively choose brands if they made their sustainability credentials clearer on their packaging and in their marketing. While the notion that consumers want their brands to be more sustainable is nothing new, the scale of this opportunity is underscored by Unilever’s own financial performance, Thaler points out. Of its hundreds of brands, those such as Dove, Hellmann’s and Ben & Jerry’s, that have integrated sustainability into both their purpose and products delivered nearly half the company’s global growth in 2015. Collectively, they are also growing 30% faster than the rest of the business, Unilever said earlier this summer.

Supply chains are another area brands are focusing on in order to “green” their products. In fact, the topic has been one of the hottest in sustainability news this summer – but why exactly are so many brands obsessing about making their supply chains as sustainable as possible? Some reasons include brand protection, increased regulatory pressure, and the obvious need to ensure a steady supply of necessary material. But another reason companies are making supply chains a focus is the opportunity to find innovative suppliers that can help them differentiate their product, EcoVadis wrote in a recent blog post. “A great example of this is Coca Cola Enterprises’ Supplier Relationship Management program. Through this initiative, Coca Cola Enterprise communicates their values and principles and work directly with their suppliers to make their companies more efficient, profitable, and of course, responsible,” according to the article.



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