Canadian Packaging

Sustaining Sustainability


March 25, 2010
by Andrew Joseph, Features Editor

It’s seems like we, as a society, tend to get away from our intended goals every once in a while… especially when things get rough financially.

Being environmental is not a new topic. The first “official” wave of environmentalism was in the late 1800s – early 1900s, with a second era of so-called modern environmentalism occurring in the 1960s and the third era beginning in 1970 with the very first Earth Day.

It was during the early ‘70s where I became aware of ecology (as we called it then), reading about the green movement at home in books and at school where one of my earliest science-fair projects discussed how long it took certain product ingredients to break down naturally. It’s probably buried in a trash dump in Michigan.

The 1970s era of environmentalism is defined more for its clean-up and control of pollution, though some folks will say we haven’t done enough. Personally, I say we did a pretty decent job as there’s no more media mention of rivers catching fire, like the infamous Cuyohoga River in Cleveland that was so polluted it caught fire—this event led to the formation of the Environmental Protection Act in the U.S.—though truth be told that that river had a long history of catching fire, dating back to 1912, and certainly wasn’t the only U.S. river to burn.

And lest you think I’m picking on the U.S., I recall walking on the beach of Lake Ontario in Toronto and counting the dead fish being washed ashore; and once saw Toronto’s Don River frothy with soapy suds so thick you couldn’t see the other bank.

This past decade, the naughty aughties saw a resurgence in environmental awareness, after we slacked off in the late ‘70s through ‘90s.

The most recent green initiative, now known by such media buzzwords as ‘sustainability’ and ‘carbon footprint’, has been undertaken quite fervently by the global packaging industry as a whole. And, I’ll be honest, I think brand owners and manufacturers have done a very admirable job. That is, up until the economic downturn remained a recession long enough for some to call it a depression.

With this recession having gone on for a couple of years now, and consumers mindful of their spending, are the sustainability initiatives still being pushed forward with the vim and vigor we saw when ‘green’ suddenly became keen again?

Have brand manufacturers—seeing limited customer funds—shied away from offering more expensive green packaging?

A couple of years ago, a friend of mine in the gift-with-purchase packaging business said his customers weren’t interested in becoming more green—despite his best attempts to interest them in a green packaging alternative. He cited cost as being the only factor in their tacit refusal. And this was before the recession. Where do we stand now?

Somewhere wondering if green is still keen?
Andrew Joseph