When we started in 2010, GreenSeed focused on co-packing natural products and healthy food at a time when it wasn’t cool, a time when Congress defined two tablespoons of tomato paste as a half-cup serving of fruit and vegetables served on public school lunch trays. (The Washington Post)

Today, there’s much more conversation around healthy living and, thankfully, a healthy planet. Now, in the midst of a global pandemic, how have conversations changed for CPGs? How will CPGs embrace sustainability as consumer behavior shifts like sand caught in the wind?

We have some insight to share from an exciting, ongoing effort we are super proud to be part of.

GreenSeed is a sponsor and active participant in “Redefining Flexible Films,” an RCD Innovation Workshop hosted by OSC2, a community of CEOs and business leaders in the natural products industry who want to leave the earth better than they found it.

Since spring, we have ideated via Zoom weekly, rethinking material management, supply chains and the global plastic waste crisis. We then voted on ideas we think are viable and interesting. Now we are in the “incubation” phase where people are curating specific ideas to move our consumer packaged goods industry to a zero waste world. Topics include recycling, composting solutions, reuse or no packaging at all, material innovation, process innovation, business model innovation, and even policy innovation.

Going forward, we will break into groups, each focusing on one actionable idea until November. In December, we will release our top ideas as solutions to the CPG world.

No idea too small, no effort too small

We started by exploring the barriers to zero waste. We then dismantled this broad topic into specific ideas, like the low cost of petroleum, a slow development process, temperature control, etc. Our approach helped us grow as individuals and made it easier for everyone to come up with something impactful. Ideas, no matter how small, are gems.

It is good to see CPGs like Pepsico, Mars, Patagonia, Whole Foods, Ben and Jerry’s, as well as smaller start-ups, get involved. Packaging engineers, sustainability experts, soil scientists, technologies and packaging designers also contribute. Such a collective creates an energy that no single company alone could possibly generate.

Time is of the essence. Eight million tons of plastic enter the ocean each year. According to a 2016 report from the World Economic Forum, about one truckload of plastic waste is dumped into our ocean every minute.

The road ahead is long — but the mileposts are clear

What must happen for CPGs to embrace sustainability in a reimagined world? In our view, the answer boils down to one thing: collaboration. Working together makes sustainability solvable. RCD Design produced a chart describing workshop ideas. Many of them emphasized collaboration:

  • Companies sharing ideas

  • Commitments by co-packers to run trials

  • More commitments and collaboration from co-packers

  • Co-investment model across the value chain

  • New business model for cooperation and sharing

  • Collaborate and develop partnerships with universities to develop materials and testing

  • Partnership between brands and manufacturers to create as well as MRF + composters to advise strategy for efficient development

The value chain, which GreenSeed has long believed as a powerful force for good, influences sustainable practices. Ideas here include connecting supply chain players to identify problems with development and collaborating to identify solutions at each stage, and developing co-investment models to improve compostable flexible film performance.

As a contract packager, we put one-time use plastics into the marketplace. However, there are alternatives and, together, we can find them. Many CPG clients ask us about sustainability initiatives — not surprising and always inspiring. People who make natural products oftentimes care about purpose as well as profit.

Yale points to collaboration on Earth Day

On April 22 of this year, Yale held a virtual summit to honor the 50th Earth Day. (Interestingly, 6% of attendees were part of the original Earth Day in 1970.) According to Yale’s report, Earth Day @50 Key Themes: “While 50 years ago environment was a topic that was largely avoided in corporate board rooms, now sustainability is a corporate priority and is an essential part of company brands and mission statements.”

The report goes on to say that a “key to accelerating progress is collaboration.” Organizations like OSC2 are doing just that.

In May, natural products industry leaders from 18 member companies of OSC2 participated in Lawmaker Education and Advocacy Day (LEAD on Climate 2020), the largest ever virtual event addressing the climate crisis. It asked for a “bipartisan group of federal lawmakers to build back a better economy by infusing resilient, long-term climate solutions into future economic recovery plans.”

This is what collaboration looks like. This is what CPGs must do to embrace sustainability in a reimagined world. We must work together because in the time it took for you to read this essay, another three truckloads of plastic waste were dumped into the ocean.

The world is watching. How will you respond?