Green is the New Black: Eco-Friendliness in the Pet Industry

April 12, 2017

Green: it seems to be everyone’s favorite color, and it’s about time. Who better to lead the charge than the pet industry and pet-loving consumers?

“The pet industry is grounded on a fundamental understanding of the kinship between humans and animals and a sense of responsibility to care for the innocent,” said Caitlyn Bolton, executive director of the Pet Sustainability Coalition. “These drivers are part of what have made the pet industry resilient to recession and the increase in the status of our pets as family.

“These same drivers are causing a massive shift in the awareness of consumers who want to know that they are using their dollars to support products and companies that share their values,” she said in an email. “As the access of information increases, the average consumer has great information regarding where products are made, how they are made, and whether or not this process is something that they can believe in. The problems of the world are increasingly at our front door, and in government stagnation, more and more consumers look to businesses to be part of the change they wish to see.”

And so, they’re calling them the “Green Generation,” though whether or not factors like cost and convenience qualify as caveats is debatable. Recent research shows that, while cost and convenience used to deter consumers from buying green products, millennials in particular are less likely to be driven away from eco-friendly purchases.

In a Nielson Global survey published in late 2015, it was found that, while millennials had grown up in the “most difficult economic climates in the past 100 years, …they continue to be most willing to pay extra for sustainable offerings—almost three out of four respondents in the latest findings, up from approximately half in 2014.”

According to the Nielson survey, many of the top purchasing drivers for consumers who were willing to pay more were tied to sustainability, showing that connecting brands with movements or messages that matter to consumers often entices them to purchase. Among the highest performing sustainability purchasing drivers cited by the survey included companies being environmentally friendly, companies being known for commitment to social value, and products being made from fresh, natural and/or organic ingredients.

“I think it’s something that touches the right chord with certain consumers—with consumers that this is of interest to them,” said Chris Wilson, the EVP of marketing and product development at Petmate. “It’s a somewhat complex story for people to understand and it’s not always easy to grasp. Maybe [consumers] see that eco-statement on the package and they might not really understand the depth of what goes on in order to be an eco-friendly product.”

Indeed, there is a lot that goes into “going green,” and there’s more than one way that brands shed themselves in a green light. From using recyclable materials to lending support to philanthropic organizations, companies do their part in transitioning to a more sustainable norm. It’s worth noting that many investments in sustainability have the added bonus of yielding worthy returns.

“Sustainability is a systemic approach that looks at long term profitability and seeks to drive wellbeing for all stakeholders. This requires an expansion from focusing solely on driving share holder earnings to consideration of employees, global communities, and the environment,” Bolton continued. “Fortunately, those who are able to integrate sustainability into their business have proven to be more profitable time and again because they increase innovation, deepen consumer and customer relationships, reduce supply chain risk, increase employee productivity and attract top talent.”

On the Assembly Line
It seems that many companies’ journey and contribution to sustainability is rooted in reinventing their manufacturing processes. The rest just seems to fall into place.

“At Purina, we’re committed to environmentally sustainable business practices at all stages of the product life cycle,” said Jack Scott, director of sustainability at Nestle Purina PetCare, in a statement on the company’s green manufacturing initiatives. “To help us assess and optimize the environmental performance of our products and their packaging, we apply a product life-cycle approach, involving our partners from farm to consumer and beyond.”

Purina’s sustainable production practices span all major parts of the process, from sourcing and manufacturing to packaging and transportation. With the ultimate goal of achieving zero waste to landfill by 2020, Purina reported that, as of February 2017, seven of the company’s factories (that’s 35 percent) had reached zero waste to landfill status. In 2016, it reported saving over 80 million gallons of water and had installed solar panels on several factories. These changes came as part of a much larger plan with other achievements toward a more sustainable operation.

In terms of specific products, Purina offers Tidy Cats Yesterday’s News litter, made with recycled paper and designed for low tracking. It’s 99.9 percent dust-free and is unscented. Another option is Tidy Cats Pure Nature, in which the company “combined cedar, corn and pine to create a naturally absorbent clumping litter with outstanding odor control,” according to the brand’s website. It is also 99.9 percent dust free, has natural scents and comes in a re-sealable and recyclable pouch.

In honor of Earth Day in 2016, West Paw Design tallied its ongoing efforts in pursuing sustainability. According to a company statement, 12.7 million bottles were recycled into IntelliLoft fiber for pet beds and toys, 3,093 pounds of Zogoflex material was recycled and used to make new toys, and 20-foot walls from the company’s old factory were used in the construction of its “state of the art manufacturing facility—reclaiming 175 tons of concrete.”

In 2013, West Paw Design became a founding member of the Pet Sustainability Coalition, the leading organization driving sustainability, specifically in the pet industry. They’re also certified by the nonprofit B Lab, which recognizes those companies with “above-and-beyond commitment to healthier employees, sustainable practices, transparency and accountability.”

For two years in a row, West Paw Design was awarded Best for the Environment by B Lab.
According to Amy Schumann, who works in marketing communications for West Paw Design, sustainability and eco-friendliness has always been a part of Spencer Williams’ ethos. Williams has been the owner and president of the company since 1996. Since then, it’s become clear that Williams isn’t the only one who cares about how and where West Paw’s products are made.

“[Customer service representatives] get calls constantly about how our products are manufactured and what they’re manufactured with,” Schumann said.

The company has an extensive catalog of green products, organic cotton beds and toys made with recycled material left over from making other products that otherwise would have ended up in a landfill. Most recently, West Paw introduced the Qwizl, which is a flexible but durable toy made from Zogoflex material in which pet owners can place their pet’s favorite treat. It’s non-toxic, FDA compliant and free of BPA, Phthalate and latex. Because West Paw Design’s products are made in Montana, their footprint is significantly decreased because there’s no need to ship items from overseas factories.

Also a founding member of the Pet Sustainability Coalition is Cardinal Pet Care. According to a statement from Barbara Denzer, vice president of marketing and product development for Cardinal Laboratories, the company’s goal is “to be planet-friendly while providing eco-friendly pet products that improve life for people and their pets.”

Pet Botanics, Crazy Pet, Full Life for Pets, Furrever Devoted, Remedy+ Recovery, Gold Medal and Viva La Dog Spa, all of which are Cardinal brands, are produced through sustainable manufacturing and packaging processes. The company moved to 100 percent solar power in its Azusa manufacturing and warehousing facilities in 2009, and it implemented energy-efficient equipment and installed motion-detecting lights to reduce waste. According to Denzer, the company recycles and reuses the water from its products.

Cardinal Pet Care has also been voted “Best Green Company to Work For” two years in a row by a Los Angeles News Group poll.

For Good Reason
Le Sharma is a company with a catalog of green products, spanning several categories without losing sight of its eco-friendly mission. Coming in first place in the bird product category and third place in the natural pet category at Global Pet Expo 2016, as well as first in the bird product category at SuperZoo, also in 2016, all of Le Sharma’s products are made of 100 percent wool and are handcrafted.

“In Nepal, we had an earthquake two and a half years back, and I wanted to decide what to do, how to help them,” said Pravin Sharma, who is originally from Nepal. “So what we did is we brought some women from [a local] village and we trained them in Katmandu.”

The women, many of them uneducated and in need of economic opportunity, especially following the natural disaster, are now the creators of Le Sharma’s many products for dogs, cats and birds.

“We get more and more orders, so now we have hired more and more women,” Sharma explained. “They work while they have free time—it’s not in a hurry, so this is not a factory. It’s not that pressure they have to finish for a deadline or something like that. So you know, they can send their kids to school. It’s not a big factory—it’s like a small community.”

For dogs, there’s a range of carriers and toys. The carriers are 100 percent cotton with foam padding on the interior. They come in stylish handmade designs and vibrant colors, with safety zip and a belt key-ring style clip. They can be hand washed separately in cold water and hold up to 16 pounds. There is also a 100 percent natural wool felt carrier that uses dyes that are AZO free, stays warm in the winter and cool in the summer and resists residual dirt.

The dog toy selection from Le Sharma includes a range of wool creations, including the eco-bonele, shaped like a chicken drumstick; the eco-octopus, in small and large sizes; the eco-bone tuggies, which look like eco-boneles attached to a woolen rope and handle for tug-of-war games; and others shaped like a variety of animals, including snakes, dinosaurs, fish, turtles and monsters.

For cats, there’s the staple eco-friendly cat cave, made with 100 percent natural wool and dyes. It keeps cats warm in the winter and cool in the summer, making it a year-round necessity. According to Le Sharma, wool fibers naturally resist odor and dirt and the caves can be used indoors or for traveling. They come in original and premium designs in a range of colors as well as elaborate designs, including embellishments that look like fruit or flowers, bird characters and tie-dye patterns.

The cat toys clean cats’ teeth and exercise their jaws and are also durable and safe. Teaser toys feature rats and shapes similar to those available for dogs, though there is some variation. They contain no chemicals.

Last but not least are Le Sharma’s hanging bird homes, constructed from the same 100 percent wool as all of the company’s other products. The colorful designs add spark to the inside or outside of bird enthusiasts’ homes, for those who keep birds as their pets or enjoy wild bird watching. They can be hung anywhere, according to the Le Sharma catalog.

On the Inside
Of course, the materials used to actually construct pet products are every bit as important as the sustainability of the processes through which they’re created.

Many of Petmate’s products are made with recycled or post-industrial material within the United States, in its facilities located in and near Arlington, Texas. Perhaps most remarkable is the fact that Petmate is the only manufacturer that produces its own custom-blended resin, and it does so with post-industrial, pre-consumer products that otherwise would have ended up in landfills. For its sustainability efforts, Petmate was awarded the Edison Green Award. Petmate’s Spectrum facility purchases and consumes more than 40 million pounds of post-industrial/pre-consumer plastic waste per year for use in more than 50 percent of its products.

“[The process] is green in a lot of ways. One, it keeps the product like that [post-industrial material] out of a landfill, which is wonderful,” Wilson explained. “We have chemists and engineers at our facility that are able to take that, grind it up and reformulate it, and we turn it into the resin that we use in our South Arlington plant to make all of these plastic products that we sell, as well as sell some resin to outside users who purchase resin in the marketplace.

“By being this vertically integrated company, we basically maintain a green footprint,” he continued. “Somewhere between 85 to 95 percent of the plastic we use comes from our own Spectrum facility, so it’s all recycled material.”

And while many sustainability efforts have the bonus of saving companies money, Wilson insists Petmate’s motive is altruistic.

“We don’t do it for the cost side of it; our costs are what they are by using the process that we’ve had in place for some time,” he said. “We do it for a host of reasons, number one being that it’s the right thing to do.”

Petmate offers a variety of products that would appeal to eco-minded retailers and consumers. There’s the Ultra Vari Kennel, made of plastic and ideal for housebreaking, kennel training and travel. Metal side vents provide 360 degree ventilation and the durable construction keeps pets safe and secure. The Booda Dome litter box is uniquely designed and covered to contain litter while the large capacity filter controls odor.

For mealtime, there are Mason jar feeders and waterers. Gravity does the work of refilling as pets eat and drink, and they come designed with a replaceable charcoal filter. In line with the rustic and crafty Mason jar trend, these will lend stylishness and convenience to pet owners’ homes.

And lastly, when it comes to playtime, the Chuckit! Launcher Classic Sport is the original hands-free, no slobber ball pick up that allows pet owners to also throw two to three times farther and with less effort, making games of fetch more fun for pet and owner. Additionally, the Megalast Glow Dog Toys from JW can float, bounce and glow in the dark. It’s made from the company’s proprietary, super tough Megalastomer material.

“If a retailer can get behind this messaging, that makes it that much more powerful,” Wilson said, explaining what retailers can do to encourage consumers to buy green, also mentioning endcaps and advertisements in circulars. “Take products like Petmate’s products, which are not just eco-friendly but also have this level of sustainability, and do an entire promotion around it.”

Green at Every Turn
It might be unsurprising that the “green” trend has permeated every category of pet product. For consumers looking to make more eco-conscious decisions, it’s possible to do so in every aspect of pet care.

Earth Rated is a company specializing—at least for the moment—in pet waste products. Its catalog includes stain and odor removers, outdoor scoopers and, perhaps most notably, waste bags. One variety is made from recycled material with an additive that assists in the bag’s breakdown after it is thrown away. The second is a vegetable-based bag that can be disposed of in any municipal composts that accept pet waste.

“It’s a combination of it being something that is growingly important to everyone, as it should be, and so we’re all trying to be more conscious about what products we use and how we use them. Also, that’s something that the market is demanding,” said Tara Garland, a project manager at Earth Rated. “So, we wanted to give our customers the type of products that they’re looking for and the type of products that we’d be looking for. Most of us are dog owners, if not cat owners, so we also want these products.”

And for those pet professionals still unconvinced that green is in, Earth Rated is sure to get information on what consumers want straight from the horse’s mouth—or, perhaps more accurately, from the horse’s Twitter account.

“We’re very active on social media and we definitely put a lot of work into that,” Garland said. “By doing that, it allows us to be better connected with our customers… Any kind of feedback from any direction is important to us—be it a distributor or from a store or a customer. But definitely the people that use our products day in and day out are the best window into what we as a company want to provide.”

And for those retailers looking to be a one-stop shop for all things pet, there’s one segment of the market that might be overlooked.

Following the loss of one beloved family member and then a dear family pet, Lisa Brambilla founded BioUrn in 2013 as a way for pet parents to not only thoughtfully lay their pets to rest, but also to show such loss in a softer light, framing pets’ passing over what she likes to call “The Rainbow Bridge” in the context of the “circle of life.”

Her father-in-law’s passing prompted Brambilla to reevaluate how we lay loved ones to rest, and the idea for BioUrn was further inspired after observing her son handle the trauma of losing their pet, Maka.

“It really affected him; every time he’d walk by her urn he would look at it, look at me and say, ‘I miss Maka,’” Brambilla recalled. “At the time, he was missing her—we had four dogs in our family, so it wasn’t that he was missing the companionship of a pet—he was missing her specifically.

“So when I created BioUrn several years later, he was helping us shoot the [promotional] video and preparing the BioUrn and we used Maka’s ashes,” she said. “What I didn’t realize when I started creating the product was, once the tree started growing, every time he’d go into the backyard to do his chores, he’d go straight for her tree first and turn around with a huge smile on his face.”

On another occasion, Brambilla found a leaf in her son’s wallet while the two were refueling his truck at a gas station. He explained that the leaf was from Maka’s tree, and that his beloved companion was always with him. As Brambilla tells it, her son pointed out the tree’s development with joy—exclaiming with each blossoming flower or growth spurt.

“So you can help a child get through the loss of a family member and help them understand—creating a circle of life to take away the pain and unhappy feelings of loss and replace them with a circle of life lesson and allow them to see their pet as something that actually is living on—it’s a beautiful gift,” Brambilla said.

A veteran-owned and family run business, BioUrn is a “handmade, biodegradable cremation urn designed to hold the entirety of your pet’s cremated remains, along with soil and the seed of a tree.” Everything one would need to create a memorial tree or flowering shrub of users’ choice is included in the kit, as well as a guide from the USDA to help pet owners choose a tree or shrub that will thrive in their chosen climate. A variety of sizes is also available.

And while many retailers aim to forge long-lasting relationships with consumers, Brambilla points out one way in which retailers are (albeit unintentionally) leaving pet owners in the lurch.

“To be able to be the one-stop shop for everything from the very first visit—toys and collars and leashes—to all the way through the memorial really tells their customer, ‘I totally have you from start to over the Rainbow Bridge,’” she said. “It not only allows them to maintain that customer’s loyalty but also tell them, ‘We’re here for you regardless of what your need is.’ And you know, you don’t have to have a huge memorial section. Two or three really poignant, thoughtful choices is really all it takes to let a pet lover know that you’ve got them for absolutely everything, not just when they’re living.”

Garland agrees.

“Giving people a selection and an opportunity to have something that really fits their needs—that definitely makes a difference,” she said. “And a really good display never hurts. Merchandising is everything!”

What We Can Do
In the face of seemingly overwhelming issues like the health of the planet, it’s easy to wonder what meaningful roles individuals might play in the solution.

“There are several long term indicators within the industry that would suggest sustainability is actively being pursued,” Bolton said in an email. “One, retailers would be including environmental and social impact criteria as part of their product selection process. Two, the pet industry will be a well-known sustainability leader—the average consumer and retailer will be able to tell you a story of how at least one brand is tackling an environmental or social problem.”

Further, Bolton expects standardization of sustainability terms, conceding that “green,” “eco-friendly” and “natural” have become buzzwords. She also looks forward to large scale collaboration to address “issues too large for any single company to solve,” as well as pet foods being increasingly sourced from suppliers and farms that employ sustainable practices.

“Retailers are a key driver that set the pace of sustainability in any industry,” Bolton said. “Retailers have more leverage in the supply chain than most other players because they ultimately determine what products sell and what products don’t. While this is over simplified, retailers can influence brands to meet all types of product specifications, including environmental and social performance.”

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