INNOVATION: PLANET POSITIVE OR JUST FOR PR?
Trailblazing. Pioneering. Revolutionary. If there’s one thing big businesses love to do – it’s throw around the buzziest of buzz words. And whilst most of the time the intended effect is pretty harmless (getting the board room hyped up), when it comes to eco-initiatives, it’s also a great chance to do a sneaky bit of greenwashing.
Some of the world’s biggest consumer goods companies have launched their latest eco-innovations… but how ‘ground-breaking’ are they really. It’s time to Dish the Dirt.
Whilst all of the big companies are trying to reduce plastic + cut down on emissions, a few of the REALLY big ones have recently announced *new* ideas within their categories. But how pioneering are they really? Are these revolutionary changes? Or another excuse to shout about ‘making a difference’.
1) COCA COLA
If you’ve recently picked up a bottle of Coke, Fanta, or Sprite with your tesco meal deal (which would have been a rookie error – an innocent smoothie is absolutely the most economical choice… do the maths) you might have noticed something new. The caps now stay attached to the bottle by a bridge of plastic. The theory is that this will stop people from littering the lids, and encourage them instead to recycle the bottle + lid as one. On the surface, this doesn’t seem like a bad idea at all. But then you see the full picture…
Coca-Cola is the biggest plastic polluter in the world. It owns over 500 brands, sells more than 200,000 plastic bottles every minute, and has a reputation for making pledges that they have no intention of actually achieving (in fact… they’ve never actually achieved even one of their sustainability pledges - even the ones made back in 1990). This new ‘attached cap’ may help to reduce the littering of lids, but with recycling rates at 45% at best (and that’s just the bottle ending up in the correct bin, not the chance of actually having a second life as a new bottle), calling this a ‘pioneering’ step towards ‘A World Without Waste’ is a pretty big leap. Bottles that are recycled are still single-use.
Rather than actually putting cash into finding a simple, easy system that could allow bottles to be reused, like a deposit return scheme, they’ve been pumping huge amounts of money into their ‘Together for Good’ ad campaign to highlight the new lids (which was also investigated by the Advertising Standards Authority for greenwashing).
On the other hand, Nestle’s latest ‘eco innovation’ might make a bit more sense. Brands including Nesquik, Smarties, Maggi, Quality Street and KitKat have launched all-paper packaging - going from absolutely-non recyclable thin plastic, to absolutely recyclable paper. They’ve also extended their eco efforts to Nespresso pods (with home compostable capsules) and Nescafé Dolce Gusto pods (which now have a paper-based option).
But back to the innovation of all-paper wrappers over the plastic ones - this is a particularly cool development for a few reasons. The current chocolate bar wrapping technique is called ‘flow wrapping’, and is the cheapest + fastest method. Experts at Nestlé's Confectionery Research and Development Center in York worked to ensure that the paper options would still be compatible with the flow wrapping equipment used for plastic. This paper also was modified so it would still protect the chocolate from the outside world, keeping KitKat wafers just as wafery. In our eyes, this is a pretty good example of a brand looking at how it can make a huge difference in the category - in the simplest way possible.
It’s not just the food and drink industry that is trying to make things as eco as possible. In the clothing industry there’s a race to create high-performing eco alternatives, plus there are a few added challenges - they need to be eco-friendly, but still have a long lifespan (no-one wants their shoes biodegrading while they run).
Adidas’ latest eco innovations were unveiled at London’s Design Exhibition last year as part of their ‘Made To Be Remade’ range – a line of products that are made of just one material, so they can be broken down and built back up into a new product. The line included tracksuits, ultra-boost trainers, and a running anorak. Whilst these are real, brand-new, first-of-their-kind innovations (and, as far as running kit goes, are pretty affordable) - how big really is the impact?
Having an eco solution is a great first step, but whilst there is a HUGE range of shoes still on their site made with polyester (albeit mainly recycled polyester) are consumers really going to be driving the change, or are they going to be grabbing what they’re used to? Expanding these innovations further across the range, and making them ‘the norm’ would take this from an interesting innovation to a truly category changing shift… but will they take the risk?
When it comes down to it, the word innovation is easily thrown around, and it’s pretty tricky to figure out whether a big brand is innovating to genuinely shift their category in a way that makes sense or whether they’re looking for a PR angle that they can milk for a couple of years.
The final call on whether it’s just “greenwashing whilst wearing a lab coat”, is really down the individual, but we think a couple of good things to ask yourself are:
- Is this solving the root cause of the issue?
- Are they expanding this across their range, or is this just to show that they can do it if they wanted to?
- Is there a simpler / less flashy way to get to the same solution?
INNOVATION AT HOMETHINGS
We're all about pushing boundaries – making sure that our products not only have powerful cleaning power, but are also *truly* eco friendly and convenient 🤘
When we realised that the most sustainable option on the market for washing up liquid involved lugging a refillable bottle home from a refill store, we collaborated with InnovateUK to create a solution that actually made sense. Enter Washupthings – the UK’s first powder-to-gel washing-up liquid.
Our Washupthings powder comes in a sachet weighing just 17.5g – containing just the stuff that actually cleans, so that you mix it with water at home to make 350ml of washing up gel. No shipping heavy water. No single-use plastic bottles. No unnecessary harsh chemicals. It makes sense.