The Rules of Beer Pong

Now that I have your attention, I must admit that we are not really going to talk about the rules of the popular party game. Most likely, you already know the general idea of the game: to fill red Solo cups with beer and throw Ping-Pong balls into your opponent’s cups while they are trying to do the same to yours. By the end of the evening, the “losers” end up drinking all the beer from the cups that once had a Ping-Pong ball in it, minus whatever was spilled on the table. I would now like to turn your attention to the after-party clean-up: What do you do with all those plastic cups that smell of stale beer the next morning? The answer is an easy one if you’re into lessening your environmental impact: you recycle them. The little triangle that you see on the bottom of those cups means they are a recyclable item. All you need to do is drop them into your curbside recycling container and your work is done, right? In theory, the Solo cups are recyclable. The triangle on the bottom of all recyclables is known as the resin identification code, and it indicates the type of plastic used in manufacturing. Solo cups are made of No. 6 thermoplastic polystyrene, a moldable plastic that can be found in everything from disposable razors, to CD cases, to Styrofoam containers. Although they are considered recyclable, very few centers and curbside pickups actually accept items made from this type of plastic because they are difficult to recycle. The next stop then is the landfill where No. 6 plastic takes about 50 years to break down. We don’t want to pick on Solo cups alone. There are a lot of recyclables, a lot of challenging products, and a lot of choices about who takes what. But, with a little education, you can still keep your personal commitment to environmental sustainability. Earth911, for example, is a great website with information, including a search engine to learn about different recycling solutions by product and zip code. Don’t you agree that to lesson environmental impact, it’s worth the effort to learn a little more about proper recycling? If you’d like to read more, please check out my column at Promo Marketing Blog. Photo Credit: Just If I via Compfight...

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What’s the Role of Transparency in Systems Change?

At QCA, as advocates of social responsibility and supply chain transparency in the promotional products industry, we recognize the importance of our largest companies continuing to set a good example as their systems change and develop. Whether due to technological advances, regulation or perhaps unforeseen events, companies need to adopt a robust approach to change to ensure that sustainability and transparency remain at the top of the agenda. That’s why we took such a close interest in the annual Engaging Stakeholders workshop, which was hosted by SustainAbility this past November, and which asked contributors to assess the role of transparency in systems change. In a key session at the workshop, “Lessons from the Transparency Trenches,” speakers from companies as diverse as Good World Solutions, Starbucks, Levi Strauss and EcoShift provided insights, which sparked significant discussions about trends: Several key points about transparency arose from the debate: Amplified voices. Good World Solutions’ Labor Link is using mobile technology to anonymously survey factory workers virtually round the clock. Surveys are voice-based, which helps overcome concerns about literacy. This type of feedback is interesting and likely to be of more value, at least in some instances, than sporadic formal site audits of supply chain companies that take place once or twice a year. Partnership is better than proxy. Companies can often rely on NGO expertise as a proxy for workers in the supply chain. Tools such as Labor Link are able to fulfill that role, meaning that NGO’s will be able to spend more time developing and implementing solutions instead of identifying and debating issues. Diverse transparency interests demand traceability. System changes and the transparency needed to implement them can be driven by many factors. Companies participating in the workshop cited regulation springing from the European horsemeat scandal and the factory collapse in Bangladesh as recent examples. The removal of toxic materials from the supply chain and addressing the growing interest in the provenance of food, clothing and other goods has also been a major factor. It was considered that emerging technology-based traceability solutions such as GeoTraceability, String Together and Oritain, all of which are in some way or another focused on tracing the path of a product in the supply chain, determining its origin and/or sharing or managing product and process information from raw material to finished product, will become increasingly important in the future. Another session in the workshop focused...

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Companies Shifting from Commitment to Action in the Drive Towards a Sustainable Future

Sustainability is one of the biggest buzzwords of 2013, but The United Nations Global Compact has been focused on making sustainability a part of global business since 2000. This year’s Global Corporate Sustainability Report shows that companies around the world are beginning to change their practices to reflect their belief in and support of sustainability. In fact, many companies have started to explore how their vendors view and act on sustainability. However, many companies don’t currently have systems in place to track the compliance of their vendors. The United Nations Global Compact surveyed nearly 2,000 companies from all over the globe, in 113 different countries to be exact. The survey and resulting report provide a look into the actions taken by businesses with regard to the responsibility of their strategies, operations and culture in terms of sustainability. The purpose of the Global Corporate Sustainability Report 2013 is to evaluate corporate action and focus specifically on the elements that are considered critical to a comprehensive sustainability approach. These elements include management exercises to embed sustainability throughout the organization as well as into the supply chain, and actions on the Global Compact principles. Also reviewed in the report are efforts made by companies to contribute to global priorities through core business practices, philanthropy, advocacy and partnerships. The United Nations Global Compact is the world’s largest corporate sustainability initiative. It’s a leadership program for development, implementation and disclosure of responsible corporate policies and practices. Through the UN’s initiative, more than 8,000 businesses from 145 different countries are starting discussions and shedding light on corporate sustainability. It is apparent in the report that many companies have even made the transition from good intentions of sustainability to action towards it—which is great news. This year’s report described the findings that indicate that companies all over the global are seeing the big picture of how tackling sustainability issues is beneficial for both business and society. One of the most important findings was that although these companies are making progress, there is a lack of integration between them and their suppliers when it comes to sustainability. Other findings from the survey include that there is a clear gap between company statement and action. Companies are saying a lot about sustainability and what they are going to do, but aren’t following through with action. Also, size is the most significant factor in sustainability performance, with larger companies...

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“Design 4 Recycling” Jeans Workshop A Success

Earlier this year, 19 students from Germany and the Netherlands took part in an innovative workshop with an interesting mission: create designs for sustainable jeans. The “jeans4recycling” workshop, held in Arnhem this past March was organized jointly by the International Solid Waste Association (ISWA) and their Dutch national member NVRD, as part of a project to find ways to make fashion more sustainable. Jeans, since they’re a fashion item with a high environmental impact (think about the number of people you know who don’t own at least one pair), were selected for the project. The aim of the workshop was to design a pair of jeans that was sustainable and whose impact on the global environment would be minimal. Further, the jeans needed to meet the garment’s overall appeal and their design not significantly altered from what the general public is familiar with. The participating students, who came from four educational institutions: Saxion University  (Enschede), ArtEZ (Arnhem), AMD (Dusseldorf) and Fachhochschule Niederrhein  (Monchengladbach), were split into four groups, each with a good mixture of social diversity, as well as technical and creative ability. Their assignment? Come up with new, viable, sustainable concepts for jeans and translate them into prototypes, all in 24 hours. Easy right? The students were given some background to the project, information about jeans’ manufacture, some information about their environmental impact, technical aspects of the production of jeans, as well as a guide on solutions that had already been found. From there, they set to work, with each group selecting a different aspect in relation to the jeans’ design, such as zippers and buttons, rivets, labels or fabrics. The second day of the workshop started with presentations by guest speakers who talked to the students about the ethical aspects of textiles, and issues surrounding textile recycling. Bert van Son, CEO & Owner of Mud Jeans, gave a presentation about his company’s jeans “leasing” concept. In it, Mud’s customers pay a monthly fee for their jeans, which remain the property of the manufacturer. Mud Jeans meets the cost of any repairs and, at the end of a year, the jeans are returned to them for sustainable reprocessing, an interesting new concept that has attracted a lot of interest in the Dutch press. After the presentations, the students came back together to present their designs and their wearable prototypes in front of an audience of sixty-or-so people. The...

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Greenwashing: Are You a Co-Conspirator?

Marketers bombard us with claims every day: “Bigger,” “better,” and of course, “cheaper.” But have you also heard “greener?” What about “greenwashing?” Have you heard of that term? Greenwashing is marketing-speak for product descriptions that are deceptively used to promote that an organization’s products, aims and/or policies are environmentally friendly. What about you? Is there a chance you might be a “greenwash” co-conspirator in your own marketing efforts? Do you find yourself citing product qualities like, eco-, organic, environmentally friendly, or even just “green,” when you’re considering them? Maybe some of the products mentioned here might make you rethink that. Barbie BCause You may have heard of Barbie “BCause”, marketed by Mattel as a limited-edition eco-friendly collection of accessories for the doll. The brand campaign developed claimed to utilize leftover trimmings and fabric was environmentally friendly. Sounds great, right? Well, the only people who thought it was a good idea was the team at Mattel and the agency that dreamed up the campaign. Environmental groups panned the campaign, and for good reason. Both the dolls and the accessories created as part of this line were made in China, primarily of petroleum products, and (shocker) very little reused product actually made it into the consumer offering. As a result, Mattel was painted harshly with the same negative publicity surrounding greenwashing missteps by marketers and brands, includingmassive fails like the “Eco-Hummer,” Sherwin-Williams covering the earth with lead paint, and McDonald’s messaging by changing its logo color to green in Europe. Not-So-Simple Green Do you have any Simple Green in your kitchen cabinets? Marketed as a product that was “green before green was cool,” there’s more to that claim than meets the eye. The Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for the “all purpose cleaner” claims that if ingested, Simple Green is “essentially non-toxic.” A little closer read of the MSDS reveals that while Simple Green is 78 percent water, the very next ingredient listed is 2-Butoxyethanol, which both California and Canada list as toxic. Even better, 2-Butoxyethanol is known to cause birth defects, fertility issues, nose and eye irritation, headaches and vomiting. In addition, it can be absorbed through the skin, so using rubber gloves with this “green before green was cool” product is a pretty good idea. Coke is being told to revise their marketing of the product, including the use of the word “plant,” excessive green colors, and a circular-arrow logo inspired by the...

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New Nike App Helps Designers See (And Pick) Green

New Nike App Helps Designers See (And Pick) Green

Nike isn’t a stranger to corporate sustainability, but a new app will take the company’s eco-friendly efforts to the next level. The Nike Making iOS app gives designers a tool to select greener, more sustainable materials, resulting in products that are better for the environment. Sourcing and using sustainable materials has been on Nike’s radar for nearly a decade, yet the Nike Making app makes this initiative much easier for product designers. The app draws from Nike’s in-house sustainability index, an eye-opening amount of data that ranks products based on scientific research and the analysis of product life cycles. Let’s say, for example, you have a product design idea. You can browse the Making app to see how different materials rank in a variety of criteria like chemistry, base material score, water/land use intensity, physical waste and more. If using organic materials is a priority, the app shows you that down is your best choice, followed by silk, cotton and polylactic acid fabric. The app is viewed as a big step forward in giving more visibility (and access) not just to corporate sustainability initiatives, but the environmental impact and sustainability of the products themselves, which isn’t something that most people are used to thinking about. As Margaret Rhodes writes for Co.Design, “The need is acute. Despite the emphasis typically placed on the environmental harm of shipping (heard prominently within movements for local farming), materials account for 60% of the environmental impact incurred from a pair of Nike shoes.” We’ve already spent some time surfing through the Making app and are big fans. After all, mitigating environmental impact is one of the key factors to overall safety and compliance—and if your company makes products that aren’t sustainable and eco-friendly, larger corporate sustainability goals won’t go far. And, as more consumers respond to actively sustainable companies, you also risk harming your bottom line. What’s your take on Nike’s latest sustainability move? Would you like to see similar apps produced by other companies? Lead image via...

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