Eco-friendly Practices Boost the Pet Industry

Colleen Murphy//April 18, 2018//

Eco-friendly Practices Boost the Pet Industry

Colleen Murphy //April 18, 2018//

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Whether it be the materials used, the way the ingredients are sourced, the recyclability of the packaging or the way the manufacturing facility’s energy is harvested, the pet industry is quite friendly to the environment—and probably more so than other industries.

Pet product companies across all segments are looking for ways to make their products more eco-friendly. Not only do they want to make sure the earth is healthy for today’s pets and owners, but companies also want to make sure the earth stays that way for future generations. While working toward a more eco-conscious future is, of course, good for the earth and its people and animals, thinking from a business standpoint is important, and getting in on that movement—either as a retailer or manufacturer—certainly wouldn’t hurt sales.

According to Todd Maute, partner at brand and design agency CBX, 87 percent of consumers purchase a product based on values while 76 percent would boycott a brand if it supported a message contrary to their own beliefs. With this in mind, and knowing that the younger generations buy into a brand’s social message more than any other generation, sustainable practices and products will only grow.

Heavy Hitters, Big Impact

Nestlé Purina considers itself a leader of sustainability in the pet products category, according to Diane Herndon, senior manager of Sustainability at Purina.

“It’s our job to help pet owners provide their pets with the highest quality nutrition, but we also recognize we have a role to play in caring for the planet to ensure people and pets share a healthy world tomorrow,” Herndon said. “It’s bigger than the product we provide—it’s everything that backs that up. There are a lot of people involved here at Purina that are involved in sustainability across every aspect of our value chain.”

From its responsible sourcing to its energy-efficient transportation initiatives, Purina has multiple greenPurina Flagstaff, Arizona Solar programs and partnerships in place. The company works with farmers and the Nature Conservancy to improve the infrastructure that supports agriculture, installing wetlands and woodlands to produce cleaner water. Its partnership with Ducks Unlimited looks to keep working rice lands in Arkansas, Texas and Louisiana—where Purina gets most of its rice—healthy. In the Midwest, where the company procures a lot of its corn, soy and wheat, Purina is figuring out ways to enhance the soil’s health.

“A lot of these projects are strongly connected to our supply chain. It’s really an investment in our future, in our ability to procure the ingredients that we need going forward, and it’s also an investment in a healthy environment that we need for our quality of life as well as the quality of life for our pets that we serve,” Herndon said.

Purina is also looking to reduce its carbon footprint. Its parent company, Nestlé, recently announced a partnership with EDP Renewables. Under the partnership, the EDP wind farms will now deliver 80 percent of the electricity load—generating and delivering 50 megawatts of electricity—for five Nestlé facilities. According to Gopi Sandhu, director of Environmental Engineering at Purina, two of the locations are Purina facilities—one for dry food and one for wet food. With the addition of the energy from the wind farm, 20 percent of the electricity Nestlé uses in the United States will come from renewable sources in 2019, a step toward the company’s goal of using 100 percent renewable electricity.

This use of wind electricity ties into Nestlé’s global commitment to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 35 percent, Sandhu said. He also noted that Nestlé has a goal to improve its water use efficiency and will reduce its water consumption per ton of production by 35 percent by 2020, to which Purina is contributing. Purina is also working toward a zero waste to landfill initiative.

“As of the end of 2017, 75 percent of Nestlé Purina’s North American factories have achieved zero waste to landfill, so we’re almost there,” Sandhu said. “We’re really excited about that; it’s a monumental effort.”

Mars Petcare has also made changes to its facilities in order to be more conscious of the earth. Late last year, the company partnered with Ahana Renewables to open a brand new solar garden linked to the company’s San Bernardino, California, manufacturing facility that produces PEDIGVeendamREE Brand dry dog food.

“The new solar garden features 3,420 individual solar panels that will annually deliver 1.9 million kilowatt hours, which can power more than 50 percent of the 78,000 square foot site’s daily energy needs,” according to a company press release. “The four-acre solar garden is projected to yield a 549-tonne reduction of greenhouse gases.”

Like Purina and Mars Petcare, WellPet has also taken steps to make its production facilities more eco-friendly. According to WellPet CEO Camelle Kent, the WHIMZEES brand’s manufacturing facility in Holland is nearly zero-waste, and the company is taking steps to get even closer to fully zero-waste.

“Creativity and planning play a big part in operating a green facility,” Kent explained. “The plant is heated by energy generated by the machines in the process of producing WHIMZEES dog chews. And all of our machines are hybrid, allowing them to save up to 40 percent in energy.

“At WellPet, we’re committed to giving back to the world we share with our pets, and improving the sustainability of our business is just one way we do that,” she continued. “Environmental responsibility is one of our core values as an organization.”

Small but Mighty

Of course, most pet product manufacturers do not work on such a large scale. But no matter how small or large a company is, many still strive to make an environmental impact, noting that every effort counts.WaggingGreen bamboo

“It’s working the whole world together,” said Lisa Austin, co-owner—along with her husband—of Wagging Green, which makes bamboo collars, leashes and harnesses. “One company, one person is not going to solve all of the problems. We are going to make a difference, but it is going to take everyone together, working together, to really make a big difference.”

It is Wagging Green’s goal to have 1 million pets wear the company’s organic, eco-friendly items.

“It’s very sustainable. It’s a grass so it grows very fast and, as grasses go, they help prevent soil erosion,” Austin said. “It will keep coming back, you can keep replanting it. And there aren’t any pesticides used in growing it so it’s a really good resource… The more we learn about the bamboo plant itself, the more excited we are to offer that product.”

On top of its eco-friendliness, there are other benefits to using bamboo. According to Austin, the material is soft— no little barbs that nylon might present. Because of its smoothness, there is also no irritation to a dog’s body. The bamboo also naturally resists odors and dries fast because of its wicking ability, preventing rashes that a wet collar might cause around a dog’s neck. Bamboo was also the material of choice for Wagging Green because of its hypo-allergenic properties.

The company offers four styles of collars, leashes and harnesses. Its comfort series is for pets that won’t pull too hard or who will mostly be in the house, made with a single layer of webbing. It also makes a series with two layers of webbing—still soft, but with extra strength. The Eco-Hip line features products with two complementary colors with fringe on the end. A new purple and bamboo zen green style was just added for springtime. The fourth collection is Save the Earth. Each item in the line looks to contribute to different groups to help the environment. For example, the Solar-Powered Pooch helps the companies that are trying to produce the solar energy to help reduce carbon footprint while the Making Waves items are intended to support organizations that help sea turtles, Austin explained.

Wagging Green also has its own recycling program in order to reduce waste. Consumers can mail back a worn collar and Wagging Green will make them a new collar, throwing away the bamboo fabric (which will breakdown since it is plant-based) and using the hardware, like the buckle and rings, to make a new one.

Krebs Recycle, a leash maker, bases its entire company on the recycling process. Taking used climbing rope—or scraps from climbing rope factories—Krebs makes five different lengths of leashes. It’s called upcycling—reusing discarded material to create an even higher value or quality product.

According to Tom Vlahos, the company’s shop manager, the idea for Krebs came from pet owner Gloria Krebs, who lived in the Seattle area, surrounded by mountain climbing enthusiasts. She saw this expensive, heavy-duty, safety-oriented climbing rope being either thrown away or madKREBS leash 4ft_rasta300e into rope for tire swings after the climbers needed to retire the rope. Because she didn’t like seeing the rope wasted, she made a leash for her puppy out of some retired rope. After word spread among her neighbors and through her tabling at farmers markets, Krebs Recycling was born.

After receiving the recycled rope from its supply partners, Krebs inspects the rope to ensure there are no tears and then washes it with an environmentally-friendly detergent in its Indiana headquarters. Rope that Krebs deems unusable—which is a very small amount—is given to people who make furniture and used as stuffing.

The leashes are not only durable— Vlahos points out that the requirements for a dog, even a strong puller, are relatively light compared to the rope’s duty on the mountain—but also eye-catching. Because climbing ropes have to have bold, colorful patterns to ensure high visibility on the mountain, Krebs’ leashes attract pet owners.

According to Vlahos, while the leashes are Krebs’ only product so far, the company would like to grow and introduce more environmentally-centered products.

“[What we do] is important because we live on this earth and we want to make sure in our very small way we feel good knowing we’re doing something good for the environment, for ourselves, for future generations and for all the pets’ and animals’ lives that live on the earth,” Vlahos said.

Sustaining for the Future

Rob Downey, president of Annamaet Petfoods, says he grew up with the outdoors being a major part of his life and that protecting natural resources has been important to him for as long as he could remember. He brought that passion into the pet industry.

“Practices such as recycling have been a major part of our company since the beginning. From the office to the warehouse—everyone is involved,” Downey said. “I believe all companies should have a social conscious, and protecting our environment is an important cause here at Annamaet Petfoods. This will be something we will continue into the future, such as looking at novel proteins as a way to conserve our natural resources and switching to degradable and sustainable packaging.”

Annamaet will be switching to that new packaging this year. The materials are specifically engineered to biodegrade in landfills and, during the process, create green, renewable, sustainable energy, Downey explained.

“This energy which is known as landfill gas, LFG, is natural gas. It can be used indirectly through the power grid or directly from the source to power factories and vehicles,” he said. “This allows our packaging to become a part of the circular economy and create value from what would otherwise simply be considered waste.

“When you think that the multiwall poly bags currently used in the pet industry will remain in landfills for over 600 years, and by using this new technology our bags will be turned into usable energy within 10 years, is pretty amazing,” Downey added.

Purina is also working to make its packaging more sustainable and is now in the final stages of its post-consumer resin (PCR) recycle material testing. “We don’t want our packages to be filling up landfills and to be excavated in 50 years from now with bright shiny colors and just in the same state they were added to the landfill,” Herndon said.

Zuke’s has also made a package change in order to enhance its sustainability.

“Without changing the net weight of our products, we were able to reduce the size of the treat pouches by an average of 20 percent, which will save up to 1,320 pounds of plastic for every 1 million six-ounce pouches sold. That’s the equivalent of 59,874 water bottles,” Zuke’s Director of Operations David Rizzo said. “We also removed the metalized layer in the pouches to simplify material construction, which further reduces the carbon footprint.”

In addition to its sustainable packaging practices, Annamaet Petfoods also sustainably sources its ingredients.

According to Downey, scientists say that if nothing is done to protect oceans, ocean fisheries may collapse by 2050. To help protect the ocean and its wildlife for future generations, Annamaet makes sure to utilize fish from sustainable sources.

“Annamaet is MSC certified. The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) is the gold standard for marine sustainability. This means that each product that carries the blue MSC logo assures the consumer that all the fish in that product was sustainably caught, and we can literally trace the fish from boat to bag,” Downey said. “Also a portion of the sale from each MSC-certified bag goes to helping protect the productivity and health of our oceans.”

Annamaet will also be protecting natural resources by utilizing an invasive species of fish, silver carp, as the main ingredient in its recently released senior dog food formula, Annamaet Re-juvenate, and by using algae, a sustainable source of Omega 3 fatty acids.

“Fish don’t produce Omega 3 fatty acids, they get it from the algae they eat. So why not go directly to the source? Algae is more stable than fish oils and certainly more sustainable,” Downey said. “At Annamaet, we are proud to use algae to increase Omega 3 fatty acids in our pets’ diets.”

Strength in Numbers

Annamaet is also a member of the Pet Sustainability Coalition (PSC) “whose mission is to accelerate environmental and social sustainability in the pet industry through education, implementation tools and collaboration,” according to Downey.

WellPet is another one of the 60 or so brands that is a member of the PSC, and Kent was recently added to the group’s strategic advisory board.

“[Being a member of the PSC] gives us access to great resources that will support us being more sustainable in our manufacturing facilities,” Kent said. “By working with the Pet Sustainability Coalition, we’ll now focus on enhancements to our manufacturing process that will further reduce our carbon footprint. We’re open to exploring efficiencies we can gain anywhere from the shipping of raw materials into our facilities all the way through to the distribution of our final products.”

In addition to its work with the PSC, WellPet has partnered with TerraCycle in order to make it easier for its consumers to recycle their Wellness Pet Food and Holistic Select packaging, diverting them from landfills.Upcycled collar

“Our recycled packaging is shredded, separated and melted into a new raw material that can be used to make anything from pencil cases and storage bins to playgrounds and community garden equipment,” Kent said. “TerraCycle can also upcycle our packaging into fun branded items like tote bags.

“Since we started our partnership with TerraCycle during April 2015 (Earth Month), we’ve diverted nearly 70,000 pet food bags from landfills,” she continued. “We have over 1,800 participating collection locations in North America. The program has also grown as a result of some of our retailers offering TerraCycle collection bins in their stores.”

West Paw, which makes toys and beds in the USA, is another PSC member.

“We believe in using our business as a force for good and Pet Sustainability Coalition is about creating positive change,” the company says on its site. “As one company, West Paw can only do its relatively small part, however, by participating in a community of Coalition members who address sustainability opportunities and barriers in and outside the pet industry, we are able to score our collective impacts.”

Its commitment to eco-friendly products and practices has also helped West Paw earn its B Corp certification, meaning the company has been recognized for aiming “for a more balanced ‘triple bottom line’—measuring our success not just by profit, but how we treat our people and planet,” according to West Paw. And the company is a four-time “Best for the World: Environment” award winner through the B Lab, who organizes B Corp.

In June 2016, bed, toy and accessory maker P.L.A.Y. (Pet Lifestyle And You) was also awarded its B Corp status.

“We are serious about helping the environment and go above and beyond to make greater progress toward greener business practices,” P.L.A.Y. explains on its website. “Our products are filled with PlanetFill, a certified safe and eco-friendly polyfiber made from 100 percent post-consumer recycled plastic bottles. To date, we have saved close to 3 million bottles from going into the landfill. We use minimal packaging where possible and FSC certified paper in all our packaging and hangtags. We are also Gold Certified by Green America’s Green Business Certification program.”

Green Legislature

Many pet product companies go beyond whatever environmental practices the government sets. Within the past decade, California had a new statute that was put into place that actually spurred Skout’s Honor to create its environmentally conscious cleaning and grooming products for the pet industry. Skout’s Honor not only upholds those guidelines set by the state, but also sets an even higher standard of eco and social responsibility for itself.

According to Skout’s Honor President Pete Stirling, the company’s proprietary ingredient, BioKore, was developed in direct response to the Green Chemistry Initiative in California, which “elevated the safety and environmental responsibility of chemical products in the state of California to the highest in the United States and on par with anything else in the world.”Skout's Honor Cleaning w black dog

“The best minds in the business had to go back to the drawing board and reinvent the wheel on how to clean. A lot of products you’d been using for 100 plus years were no longer viable in the state of California, and being one of the world’s largest economies, it had a global impact on the industry,” Stirling said. “People had to re-look at how they make any kind of cleaning technology. It created an environment where there was a lot of opportunity for a company like ourselves to focus on bringing the highest quality products with an environmental edge to market.”

BioKore and the products’ other ingredients are either mineral- or plantbased and so are in line with the California Green Chemistry Initiative and, therefore, Skout’s Honor’s cleaning products have been certified as being more environmentally responsible than other products, which the company advertises with a seal on its bottles, which are also eco-friendly.

And even though its products—whether it be its odor eliminators, Toy & Bowl Cleaner or any other of its cleaning products—are eco-conscious, Stirling points out they still get the job done.

“Prior to the last three or four years, [green] products haven’t been able to match the efficiency of the not so environmentally friendly products. That, thank goodness, has changed on our side of the table,” Stirling said. “We now have access to environmentally friendly products that are very responsible and that, many times, are more powerful than the synthetic chemical products that they were designed to replace.”

According to Stirling, Skout’s Honor’s commitment to being environmentally conscious shapes the way the company looks at its research and development for both its cleaning and grooming products.

“Sometimes we’re looking way back in time, like what are some things Native Americans used to solve a problem,” he said. “And other times we’re looking forward and saying, ‘What is the next best way for us to take care of a grooming issue with a pet?’”

For its new grooming line, the forward-looking solution is using topical probiotics to help with common skin problems.

“What we’re finding is because we’re looking at it from a what’s most natural and environmentally-friendly way… sometimes it pushes us further, and I think the customers are always very receptive to that and they’re very understanding of that,” Stirling said. “The whole environmental aspect of what we do, we really see it as a driver for us because we see it as the future of pretty much any category, especially in chemical products.”

Like Skout’s Honor, Purina also recognizes the importance of environmental regulation and using that to better its business and its impact on the earth.

“We do look at sustainability as being built on a foundation of compliance. We’re really fortunate in the United States that we have very well developed environmental laws and regulations that protect us and our families and our pets and the earth around us,” Sandhu said. “We look at sustainability as utilizing those tools that we have through monitoring and measurements that are part of just regulation that we almost take for granted sometimes and building on those and creating shared values for the communities that we operate.”