Archive for August, 2011

The Red Flag over Playmobil’s Castle

My daughter loves Playmobil.  She spends hours constructing and then animating complex scenes and she’s a master at combining parts from different sets to create new structures that aren’t in the well-thumbed Playmobil catalogue.  Except for the unpleasantness of stepping on a rogue piece in the dark or sifting through the dust of the vacuum cleaner bag to recover some special plastic bit, I quite like the stuff myself.  It’s the sort of toy I wish I had when I was a kid.

However, I must admit I’m disappointed by the company’s apparent inattention to sustainability.

A set my daughter bought was missing a piece – a rare occurrence – so I ordered a replacement part through the company’s website.   Here’s what I received in the mail a couple of weeks later:

The piece

The packaging

The piece itself is about 3 x 2 x 2 cm!  You could fit  hundreds of them in that box!  (At least the box was not also filled with those hard-to-recycle (and annoyingly clingy) styrofoam chips.)

This experience prompted me to go to Playmobil’s website to find out where they stand on sustainable packaging.  Much to my chagrin, I was unable to find any information about any aspect of sustainability at Playmobil and its maker, Geobra Brandstätter gmbH.

I went out to the shed to check the original packaging; a few boxes have Der Grüne Punkt, indicating the company participates in the Green Dot program in Germany, but there is no other mark to indicate recycled content or recyclability of the packaging.

There are so many resources out there now to support manufacturers in adopting sustainable packaging materials and systems, there really is no excuse for a consumer products manufacturer to ignore this aspect of corporate responsibility.  For example, the Sustainable Packaging Coalition is an industry working group that offers courses, briefs, design guidelines and other resources for sustainable packaging.  The Sustainable Packaging Alliance provides tools and delivers workshops and events.  Or check out the annual Sustainable Packaging Forum, coming up in September in Texas.

Sustainable packaging minimizes material waste, both in manufacturing and end-of-use disposal.  It also reduces energy and emissions associated with transportation from factory to distribution centre to retail store.  And, of course, it saves money in material costs, transportation, and warehousing.

Playmobil red flagAny way you look at it, the clearly unsustainable packaging used to send me this replacement part is a red flag.  It shows that Playmobil either isn’t doing anything about sustainable packaging or, if it is, the company has overlooked certain customer transactions that involve packaging.

That there is no publicly available information about Playmobil’s corporate responsibility programs, too, is a red flag.  Does it mean that Playmobil and Geobra are doing nothing about sustainability?  Or does it mean, simply, they aren’t communicating what they’re doing?  Either way, it’s leaving me and every other interested consumer in the dark.  And that’s no way to build confidence and trust.

Click here to access Playmobil’s Facts and Figures page (over 2 billion figures manufactured to date!)

Image of Playmobil part from this eBay listing.

What Makes a Sustainability Leader?

Ray Anderson

Many of us in the corporate responsibility and sustainability community were saddened this week by the death of Ray Anderson, founder and chairman of Interface.  If you don’t already know his story, Ray is perhaps best known for his compelling description of the ‘spear in the chest’ epiphany that shifted his environmental paradigm from old-school compliance to sustainability evangelism.  The many tributes paid this week invariably described Ray as a sustainability leader.

That got me to thinking about what attributes epitomize a “sustainability leader.”

In his own words, Ray provided a “shared higher purpose” to his team at Interface.  He articulated a clear vision, supported by a persuasive rationale.  He communicated a sense of urgency, while describing a clear path of action.  He was consistent in his messaging, and tireless in its delivery, both within Interface and with external audiences.  Ray was willing to take risks, to step out ahead of the crowd, fueled by conviction and determination.  He was sincere, and he was deeply committed.

Consequently, Ray Anderson transformed his company into an industry leader in sustainability, while also inspiring thousands of business people, corporate responsibility practitioners, and ordinary folk through storytelling.

Ray showed us that sustainability leaders don’t have all the answers.  They lead from where they are.  They embrace and enable followers and collaborators, anyone who can help to achieve the sustainability vision.  They are courageous and willing to stand alone.  They find their own voice and leverage their own strengths to distill the complexities of sustainability into a simple, clear vision of the way things are, the way things need to be, and the path between these realities.  They move inexorably forward in the sustainability journey, though it may be a daunting one.  They act.

 

View Ray Anderson’s TED talk here.

Photo of Ray from Interface Global’s website.  Ray’s words, above, quoted from John Elkington’s tribute to Ray Anderson in the Guardian Sustainable Business Blog, here.  

Read additional tributes to Ray Anderson here, here, and here.

View Interface’s memorial page and blog here.

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