GRMA Launches Sustainability Consortium

GRMA Announces New Sustainability Consortium

America’s relentless pursuit of convenience has fueled innovation for many new products, services and companies. Considering everything from the invention of the automobile, to microwaves, disposable diapers, carryout meals, plastic bags and now smart-connected devices and on-demand delivery services, our ability to innovate coupled with our unwavering entrepreneurial spirit has led to the creation of many conveniences that make our lives easier and more comfortable.

Unfortunately, the by-product of these creature comforts is the unforeseen impact of both their production and waste on the environment and our planet. Using plastics as an example, the EPA reports that the U.S. alone generated 35.4 million tons of plastic in 2017, compared to just 390,000 in 1960. Of that, only 8.4% was recycled. Although versatile and relatively cheap to produce, plastics can take from 400 to 1,000 years to break down. Around the world, we produce over 300 million tons of plastic each year, and scientists estimate around 8 million tons enter the ocean every year. A report from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation even hypothesizes that by 2050, plastic in the oceans could outweigh fish.

The conversation around sustainability and the negative impacts our convenience-oriented lifestyles are having on the planet are beginning to surface with greater frequency. Consumer awareness is growing as social media sparks the dialogue and grassroots movements take hold. Local governments are issuing restrictions and bans. Single-use plastic bags are now banned in three states: California, Hawaii and, as of March 2020, New York state. Plastic straws are similarly banned in California, Washington, D.C. and Seattle, with plastic utensils being outlawed in Seattle as well.

Furthermore, there is growing evidence that consumers are making buying decisions with the planet in mind. According to a 2018 study conducted by CGS and published by e-marketer in 2019, “68% of US internet users deemed product sustainability an important factor in making a purchase.” In a 2018 Nielsen report, a staggering 81% of respondents said they feel strongly that companies should help improve the environment. In the same report, 90% of millennials said they are willing to pay more for products that contain environmentally friendly or sustainable ingredients.

With this as background, companies are taking action and demonstrating that they are willing to be accountable for their actions in the area of sustainability. As James Quincey, Chairman and CEO of the Coca-Cola Company said in 2019, “Consumers around the world care about our planet. They want and expect companies like ours to be leaders and help make a litter-free world possible.”

At the recent 2020 World Economic Forum in Davos where sustainability was a featured topic, two-thirds of the companies were reported to have signed a joint initiative committing them to reporting their corporate metrics as they relate to their company’s impact on the environment.

Many companies are already making notable progress in this area. For example, Kroger’s Zero Hunger | Zero Waste plan works to redirect food that would typically have been wasted to feed those struggling with hunger. The program keeps food out of landfills and also fulfills a social good. In discussing their commitment to the program, Rodney McMullen, Chairman and CEO of The Kroger Co., said in their 2019 Sustainability Report, “Change brings opportunity; yet we recognize it also requires careful attention to how we lead and how we manage environmental, social and governance topics important to our stakeholders.”

Similarly, Chipotle is championing a commitment to sustainability in three areas including food and animals, people, and the environment. With a goal of diverting 50% of its restaurant waste from landfills by 2020, Chipotle conducted detailed waste audits to better understand its waste patterns. In doing so, the team learned that 95% of all gloves used in restaurants end up in a landfill. As there was no known commercial recycling available for the gloves, Chipotle vowed to find a solution. Upon discovering the materials in the gloves were the same as the recycled trash bags used by the brand, Chipotle partnered with a solution provider in Salinas, California, to start a pilot program turning plastic gloves into trash bags. What began as a pilot in eight restaurants across Portland is now expanding into 17 restaurants in Sacramento.

Adidas is committed to battling plastics and saving our oceans by transforming how they manufacture their products. For starters, by the end of this year, half of all polyester the company uses will be from recycled sources, and by 2024, all polyester that the company uses will be recycled material.

“While many individual companies are in various stages of development with respect to sustainable initiatives, leaders have also acknowledged the opportunity for greater collaboration across categories and industries.

As part of our mission to lead future-forward conversations likely to impact our customers and businesses, the GRMA’s emphasis on sustainability will be part of the global leadership discussion at the 2020 Growth and Innovation Forum “Creating Growth at the Intersection of People, Purpose and Planet.” We will continue to build upon our work with a new sustainability consortium, formed out of a desire from our members to raise greater awareness and foster better collaboration on this topic. Incorporating the brightest minds in the business across industries, the GRMA Sustainability Consortium will access the expertise of innovators in the science and tech communities to help us better understand the most pressing issues and pave the way for solutions.

We are inviting executive leadership to join us in this collaborative movement. If you’re interested in joining the GRMA Sustainability Consortium or would like to learn more, please contact: Marcelle McCormick at Marcelle@nullthegrma.com

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