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Keeping you in-the-know on environmental, social and governance developments

Lawrence and I just got back from Reuters Responsible Business USA 2024 in New York and it was exciting to meet some of you in person and make new connections. The event was full of thought provoking sessions with a great lineup of sustainability leaders. We’ll be blogging on some of our takeaways from the event over the next several days. One big idea from the Cultivating Change Across Business panel came from Steve Cahillane CEO of Kellanova. While discussing incorporating sustainability practices into business, he reflected on the recent attempts by Kellanova to move to a fully recyclable Pringles can. He noted that the company cannot compromise the consumer experience when developing sustainable packaging.

This point reminded me of paper straws. In 2011, a nine year old boy took the internet by storm with his “be straw free” campaign. The viral movement urged people to move away from plastic straws and towards sustainable alternatives. In theory, people were happy making the switch to put a small but meaningful dent in plastic waste. However, when restaurants actually put this into practice, public opinion quickly shifted.

The environmental benefit of paper is that it degrades quickly when placed in liquid. But that benefit is also a problem as paper straws quickly degrade in our beverages. We must either drink our beverage against the clock of a rapidly dissolving straw, or go without, which seems fine until your car is covered in liquid after a hard brake. The poor performance of these straws meant that they were never adopted widely, and many restaurants went back to plastic.

Steve’s point is well taken. Consumers are the lifeblood of a company and sustainability requires innovation. Making sub-par products isn’t the answer, especially if those products cause consumers to shift towards a less sustainable competitor. Developing more sustainable or green products requires companies to research and consider customers/user experiences. If environmentally-sustainable innovations aren’t economically-sustainable, then they will not survive.

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The Editor

Zachary Barlow is a licensed attorney. He earned his JD from the University of Mississippi and has a bachelor’s in Public Policy Leadership. He practiced law at a mid-size firm and handled a wide variety of cases. During this time he assisted in overseeing compliance of a public entity and litigated contract disputes, gaining experience both in and outside of the courtroom. Zachary currently assists the editorial team by providing research and creating content on a spectrum of ESG… View Profile