For the Love of the Green

Everyone wants to be green. But no one wants to let go of their own green. The cost of living in a more sustainable way when the cost of living continues to rise is inevitably changing consumer buying habits.

Walfried Lassar, director of the Ryder Center at Florida International University, raised an intriguing question at the Green Supply Chain Forum in Miami. Playing devil’s advocate, Lassar challenged attendees to consider whether the green consumer phenomenon was nothing more than a fad. If the buying public can afford to pay more for environmentally sensitive products now, he argued, does that not suppose tastes might change when discretionary income is scarce later?

Lassar’s observation was prescient. Of late, manufacturers and retailers are pondering that same question.

Clorox, for example, debuted its Green Works brand in 2008 as an environmentally sensitive cleaning line. Sales that year reached $100 million. However, Clorox spent only $1.4 million on advertising the brand in 2010— compared to more than $25 million in both 2008 and 2009.

Other companies, including Walmart, The Home Depot, and SC Johnson, have scaled back similar green initiatives. Why the change in behavior?

“Faced with direct or indirect customer pressure, companies react by moving forward with sustainability efforts… but the reverse is also true. When there is lack of customer pressure, sustainability efforts can stall,” according to SCM World’s Chief Supply Chain Officer Report 2011.

In retrospect, Lassar’s teasing presumption bears some truth. Sustainability’s fad appeal has lost luster and the supply chain is reacting to demand. While some forward-thinking CPG companies have made supply chain sustainability a strategic priority, others that have preyed on the consumer’s social conscience are struggling with buyer’s caprice— and lack of remorse.

Being green isn’t easy. Less than 30 percent of companies have visibility over immediate suppliers regarding environmental standards, reports the SCM World study.

But there is some positive news. Some leaders in the transportation and logistics sector are moving forward with green initiatives. Asset-heavy carriers, 3PLs, materials handling companies, and port authorities have been investing in sustainability as a means to reduce operational costs, eliminate emissions, ration energy consumption, and help customers increase transparency among their partners. They are empowering business process change deep within the supply chain rather than at the store shelf.

Inbound Logistics’ Green 75 Supply Chain Partners directory celebrates companies that understand the unyielding commitment and investment necessary to establish sustainability as a measure of supply chain excellence, and to change consumer and shipper behavior by making sustainability economic, and not an additional cost.

They do it for the love of the green.

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