Monthly Archives: March 2014

Hockey Brands Need to be More Sustainable

Recently in class we’ve talked a lot about a product’s lifecycle and how companies can improve their sustainability from production to the end of a product’s life. Being a huge hockey fan and having worked in a hockey store in the past, I realized how unsustainable hockey companies are – and I got fired up. (here comes the rant)

Technology has improved so much that almost every year brands such as Bauer, Reebok/CCM and Easton release new and improved products that make the previous year’s products look archaic.  From a brand perspective this is just great because consumers will always want the latest and greatest gear that is supposed to take them to the “show”. Nowadays, hockey brands are able to command outrageous prices because of their technological advancements – its commonplace to see new skates priced at $1000 and hockey sticks priced over $300. But what is more staggering is that these premium products are not durable enough to withstand the rigorous hockey season, which prompts consumers to keep buying more.

Take a hockey stick for example. People will pay upwards of $300 for an insanely light hockey stick made from a combination of fibre glass, carbon and graphite that offers high performance to the user. But as I mentioned earlier, these sticks are not nearly durable enough and snap like toothpicks. Watch any NHL game and you’ll see at least 3 or 4 sticks break within the 60 minute game. The Los Angeles Kings estimate that they break an average of 1000 sticks a season and they’ve realized how much waste they are creating. To help minimize their impact they’ve recently partnered up with Hat Trick BBQ to repurpose their sticks into grill tools, seen here

Drawing from my experience working in a hockey shop, once these sticks break they are useless and go straight into the trash and then the landfills. Furthermore, its not like the sticks are made with compostable materials – the fibre glass and graphite can be very damaging to the environment. Currently there is nothing being by done by the companies to minimize waste from post-consumer use. We all know that a company’s responsibility doesn’t end with a product’s purchase and something needs to be done.

Even though I don’t have the technical background and scientific knowledge about the composition of hockey sticks I propose a couple solutions:

If hockey sticks can be recycled:

1. Some sort of recycling program where broken sticks can be taken back to retailers and then collected by the manufacturer to be recycled and made into new sticks

2. Consumers can ship broken sticks back to the manufacturer in return for some sort of rebate on their next stick purchase.

If hockey sticks cannot be recycled:

The manufacturers could still collect broken sticks via the above recommendations but repurpose the broken sticks, like Hat Trick BBQ,  to make different products such as furniture, household decor, tools, kitchen/grill utensils, and so on… the possibilities are endless.

In fact, many of the products that I just mentioned are already being made, but by smaller mom and pop companies. In my opinion this is a much more viable option for the hockey companies because it creates new revenue streams for them and help divert sticks from the landfills.

Here are some examples of some repurposed hockey sticks:

Hat Trick BBQ

I’ve looked into the corporate sites of each of the big 3 hockey brands and none of them mention anything about sustainability. Most likely this is because the typical hockey player or fan do not really care about the environment and how their gear impacts it. However, its rapidly becoming a norm for companies to make some effort to reducing their environmental impact, and I expect that sports equipment companies will follow suit.

It’s time for the hockey equipment manufacturers such as Bauer, Reebok/CCM and Easton to look at how unsustainable their operations are and do their part to reduce the waste being sent to the landfills as a result of their products.

 

-AK

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A&W Canada is leading the charge for sustainability in Fast Food

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As I was trying to find something to blog about this week, I got hungry and decided to head to A&W for a burger. To my surprise, once I got my order and sat down to eat the topic of this blog post was literally in the palm of my hand.

Like the title of this blog says, I think that A&W Canada is leading the way to sustainability for the fast food industry. When I looked down at my burger and fries I noticed something different with the packaging. They weren’t in the typical cardboard boxes that you would expect to find at McDonald’s or Burger King. Instead they were packaged in smaller sleeve-like packaging that was also compostable and contain at least 70% recycled material.

In addition to their packaging, there is also the A&W Pure Beef Guarantee, which means that they only use 100% pure beef that’s free from hormones, steroids and preservatives. In order to ensure that this standard is always met, A&W is very selective with their value chain partners and only select cattle from ranches and their local partners that are ethical, have sustainable practices and follow stringent standards. I’m sure we’ve all seen their commercial by now, and if you haven’t I’ve posted it below. To learn all about A&W’s Better Beef, click here.

A&W does a lot more to reduce their environmental impact and you can read more on their website here.

I found A&W’s beef policy to be quite intriguing and very relevant to what’s been in the news lately regarding McDonalds’ quest for sustainable beef. For years fast food companies have been pumping out tons of burgers with meat that consumers have never been quite sure about. Consumers know that in general fast food is not good for you, yet the main ingredient in a burger, the beef, has slid under the radar in terms of quality control. We never really know what’s in the burger that we’re eating or how many chemicals, additives and antibiotics have been added or fed to the cows.  That’s why A&W’s transparency with their beef is like a breath of fresh air. Not to mention, I definitely see A&W’s Better Beef as a point of differentiation and an opportunity to gain more consumer goodwill and market share in the fast food industry. I definitely see it as one reason why McDonalds launched their search for sustainable beef in January 2014.

According to a Mother Jones article, McDonalds and the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (GRSB) have recently released a draft definition for sustainable beef. An interesting note that was mentioned in the article is that the GRSB is actually more of a meat industry group, rather than an environmental organization as there are only 2 representatives from environmental groups in the roundtable. The article is very critical of the GRSB’s findings and calls out the report for being very vague, speaking in very general terms and avoiding metrics that would help measure sustainability. One quote that really stood out to me from this article is that a spokesperson for the GRSB said that “I don’t know if there’s any justification for banning antibiotics in feed.” Currently 4/5 of all antibiotics in the US go to livestock operations, including those of McDonalds, and it has been scientifically linked that the use of antibiotics increases the frequency of antibiotic-resistant bugs moving from animals to humans.

The point of this is that unlike their competitors, A&W doesn’t need to hear from a roundtable of experts to decide on what is sustainable or not. They are using their heads to identify right from wrong, and taking the initiative to be transparent with their customers. Even though I may not have all the information I really commend A&W for their sustainability efforts and their initiative to provide customers with better beef. It’s still fast food and not necessarily good for you, but at least its better.

What do you think?

-AK

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Amazon Prime Air – A highly sustainable delivery system

Last class we focused on Distribution and how it is related to sustainability. The goal of most businesses is to reduce the ecological footprint of their distribution networks and simultaneously create huge cost savings. For most companies this means switching from Air to Sea, Road to Rail, sharing truck space with other companies, using more efficient vehicles, relocating warehouses and so on. However, Amazon is taking the idea of a sustainable distribution network to another level by revealing their R+D baby called Prime Air.

Amazon Prime Air is a system which utilizes drones to deliver packages from a warehouse to a person’s home or business. This “last mile home” delivery system eliminates the need for delivery trucks and significantly reduces carbon emissions in a highly efficient way. The main consumer benefit that Amazon says Prime Air will provide is product delivery in 30 minutes or less, which is absolutely unheard of. Want to see how it would work?

 

I’ve always been curious to learn about ordering online and it’s impact on sustainability. Sure ordering online is much more convenient, faster and cheaper than going to the store but what about it’s environmental costs? Ordering online means that maybe one or two items would have to be packed up, shipped, put onto a delivery truck and delivered to your house. If you extrapolate that to a city, thats hundreds or thousands of products that are being individually delivered to people’s doorsteps. Even if you use a route optimizer, I can imagine that this door to door delivery system is very inefficient and uses an insane amount of fuel. I’ve always thought that this process has a much higher impact on the environment than filling up a truck with like items only to have one or two stops at larger stores. But I also know that you must consider the impact of people driving to and from stores, the store’s carbon footprint, etc. So from my limited knowledge, I am not sure if I am able to say if one method is better than the other. However, I can say that Amazon’s Prime Air is definitely better than the status quo.

Using the drones will revolutionize delivery systems because there is no need for any trucks, cars, bikes or any other vehicle and it will take a fraction of the time to deliver. it will significantly reduce Amazon’s environmental footprint because they are eliminating carbon emissions on “the last mile” which is arguably the most inefficient and consumes the most fuel on a per product level, when compared to long distance shipping.

While the Prime Air still needs to undergo thorough testing, address security concerns and adhere to soon to be announced FAA regulations, I think that this is a ground breaking innovation and will change the game from a consumer convenience standpoint, as well as a corporate sustainability one.

Amazon expects Prime Air to be operational sometime in 2015.

What are your thoughts?

 

-AK

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Is This Meal Sustainable?

“Is this sustainable?”

Along with calories and ingredients that’s the question that could be asked by restaurant patrons when ordering food.

With concepts like locally sourced and Farm to Table and certifications such as organic and Ocean Wise, it is becoming a common trend for consumers to be informed about how their food is grown/raised and sourced. Especially in Vancouver it seems as if more and more consumers are demanding this kind of information and restaurants are beginning to be more transparent about their ingredients. A lot of sustainability initiatives are focused around electricity, heat, oil and water consumption but not much attention has been paid towards food.

According to this Greenbiz article the United States Healthful Food Council (USFHC) is launching a program that will increase transparency and provide greater information to consumers about the food they’re eating. The Responsible Epicurean and Agricultural Leadership (REAL) Program “uses third party audits to certify the nutrition and sustainability of foods served at restaurants, as well as caterers and other food service operations.” The REAL Certification uses audits to assess menus and gives out points based on nutrition and sustainable practices. Their goal with the program is to be the LEED certification of the food industry. Businesses with the certification signifies that the food is wholesome, authentic, nutritious and sustainable. Some of the things that the audits will look at are the amount of fruits and vegetables on a menu, preparation methods, portion size, and use of local and organic ingredients.

The program has finished it’s pilot stage and is now being launched in New York, Boston, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

While I don’t know the extent of the program’s success rate or if the American public will accept something like this, I really think this is a step in the right direction. Especially for the US where its no secret that their eating habits are not the greatest in the world, I think the REAL program would be great. One of the greatest drivers of sustainability is corporate transparency, and this program makes the restaurant industry much more transparent. Hopefully the program will create more informed consumers who will be able to make smarter decisions when going out to eat. It will also raise more awareness for sustainable growing, sourcing and eating habits. From a business perspective this certification can be a really good thing for business. It will create a point of differentiation from competitors and will allow a business with the REAL Certification to charge a price premium. As the healthy eating and sustainability trends continue to gain momentum and widespread adoption, having the REAL Certification will help a restaurant reap the rewards. I think that this could be  similar to the success that HP enjoyed by adhering to the strictest manufacturing laws in the world before their competitors were forced to by law. It’s innovative, proactive and could be very successful for consumers and businesses alike.

On a more local note, I am unaware of anything so widespread being available in Canada. There are many certifications that operate separately, such as Ocean Wise etc., but nothing that operates as an all-encompassing food sustainability certification. Being in Vancouver, the Ocean Wise certification is very common and almost expected on every restaurant menu and I think that the time is right for something more robust. Its my (biased) opinion that a program such as REAL will probably have a higher chance of adoption and success in Canada instead of the US, and should be seriously considered for implementation.

-AK

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