Sustainability, green initiatives, reducing your footprint.... these are all phrases we have heard increasingly over the past couple of years, as businesses and individuals have been called upon to do their part in curbing the truly significant impact humans have on our planet. Companies everywhere have people and projects dedicated to finding solutions, whether in packaging, or manufacturing or shipping or just the day to day of running a business (do you really need to print that in colour and with 15 copies?).
Some will still question motivations - are businesses doing it because they really believe it or because finally governments are mandating it and consumers are starting to demand it. Well I think the more important question is: is the company doing it in a way that give the practice longevity, or in other words, lives up to the triple bottom line: people, planet, profit? Does the initiative make social, environmental and economic sense? Because if it doesn't do all three, I would argue it's not going to make it in today's market.
A great example of this was brought to a head this past week. As I'm sure you've all heard by now (pun fully intended), Sun Chips decided replace their compostable bags with the original ones because these green ones were ridiculously loud (check out this USA today article for more details). Like on the decibel level of a lawnmower or a jet engine cockpit. And there is outrage on both sides of the issue.
The environmentalists are throwing their hands up in the air and saying, REALLY? Finally a company is trying to do some good by reducing their packaging footprint and people can't tolerate a bit of noise?
And companies are grumbling because they're saying - look, we tried. We tried to be green and conscientious and look where it got us. Back to the old packaging. We tried.
But what everyone is failing to realize is that this initiative didn't have a chance to last because it didn't meet all three criteria at the outset: Planet - check. Profit - check check (I imagine, though it was likely more expensive to change over to this new technology, the overall going business impact was around margin neutral, otherwise it wouldn't have passed internal financial hurdles). But what about the People? In consumer research, did this project pass? Or, as I suspect happened, did the initiative feel big and important and meaty enough to just push into existence, even against consumer concerns over noise and utility.
Now I'm not doubting the intentions of those working on the Sun Chips brand. In fact, I applaud them for trying something bold and different. They even went on the offensive to counter the noise complaints, stating, "That's the sound of change". I like the conviction.
The only problem is that this team didn't solve for all three variables to make this a sustainable program. If they had, it might have taken a couple more months and a higher investment, but I'm certain they would have found a compound with the molecular structure that doesn't sound as if you're working a band saw. Which is what I'm sure they're looking for now.
All this kerfuffle over bags with great intentions just highlighted how none of these calls for change are as cut and dried as simply offering something people say they want.
We as business managers need to push and make sure initiatives are legitimately meeting economic, environmental and societal needs. Most importantly to me, no matter how much people say they want something more noble and "good", it's naive to think we can overcome human nature. If it isn't delivered in a way that meets their comfort standards, it simply won't be adopted.
Because we've all been trained to be exceedingly discerning (read: picky). And any brand that doesn't give it all to us, in the exact way we want it, well, they're not a brand for me.
And I'm guessing it's a message that Sun Chips has heard loud and clear.