CPGs want consumers to turn the dial on waste

Consumer habits remain a hurdle to mitigating climate change. Here's what brands like Hellmann's and Tide are doing about it.

Hellmann's Waste Not

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In the fight for a more sustainable planet, innovative packaging solutions and supply chain efficiencies can only take brands so far. If companies are to meet their sustainability targets, they may also need to address what they describe as one of the largest sources of emissions associated with their products: consumer use.

It’s the reason major companies, from Unilever to P&G, are educating and encouraging their customers to adopt new eco-friendly habits – consumers may be the ones calling for action, but their own behaviours remain one of the many hurdles in stopping climate change.

Unilever’s “Future Foods” ambition, unveiled in November, aims to “help people transition towards healthier diets and to help reduce the environmental impact of the global food chain.” Embedded within that strategy is a commitment to halving food waste across its global supply chain and operations by 2025.

But tackling food waste within the home – which the company says accounts for 60% of food waste globally – is also “essential to meeting our global food waste commitments,” says Unilever’s senior brand manager Kristen Denega.

In addition to Unilever, P&G is also committing to new environmental goals through its brands. Tide, for example, recently outlined a set of sustainability and purpose-oriented commitments that will guide all of its North American activities until 2030, as part of the parent CPG’s overall “force for good and force for growth” strategy.

Tide’s 2030 commitments include reducing its plants’ greenhouse gas emissions by 50%, cutting its use of virgin plastic in half, and expanding its “Loads of Hope” program through which it provides clean clothes to people in need.

But that alone won’t be enough to curb the brand’s environmental impact, because of the 25 billion loads of laundry done in the U.S. and Canada every year, less than half of them are done in cold water, and overall, two-thirds of the greenhouse gas emissions in the laundry lifecycle result from the consumer use phase, according to the company.

For Tide, the issue is that consumers don’t always know how to act in planet-friendly ways. A recent P&G survey found that while 79% of Canadians believe small, daily actions within the home can make a positive impact on the environment, 34% of people don’t necessarily know what actions to take, making it one of the biggest barriers to living more sustainably.

“This means there’s a significant opportunity to drive habit change by increasing awareness of less obvious water and energy saving activities at home,” says Moses Ogbonnaya, P&G Canada country leader for fabric and home care.

Hellmann’s faces a similar challenge – and opportunity.

“We know that most people don’t set out to waste food. Previous internal research conducted by Hellmann’s revealed that 70% of people around the world agree that ‘avoiding food waste’ is important to them,” Denega says. “[But] while there have been significant improvements in agriculture, manufacturing and retail, few people at home think of themselves as major contributors to the problem – they believe food waste happens somewhere else in the chain.”

To that end, both Hellmann’s and Tide are running campaigns that aim to help their customers develop new eco-friendly habits.

Last week, Hellmann’s unveiled the findings of a study conducted in partnership with Toronto-based behavioural science firm BEworks that involved 1,000 Canadian families. Over a five-week period, participants committed to one “Use-Up Day” per week (in which they would create a meal with soon-to-expire ingredients they might otherwise throw out) and to apply a simple method allowing them to easily make meals and “flexcipes” (flexible recipes) out of what they already had in the fridge.

By using the methods provided, the research found participants reduced their reported food waste by 33%, so Hellmann’s intends to build the program into a “digital experience” to be launched nationally, before taking it globally, though Denega says the details of those plans are still being finalized.

“We believe we have the power to make a difference and have made it our responsibility and mission to provide practical, effective solutions to help Canadians reduce the amount of edible food they throw away in their homes,” she says.

Meanwhile, Tide launched a North American campaign – featuring high-profile celebrities like Ice-T from Law & Order SVU, former NHL player Mark Messier, WWE wrestler “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, and Annie Murphy from Schitt’s Creek – to educate consumers on the energy and money-saving benefits of washing their clothes in cold water.

While 71% of Canadians have told P&G they want to do more to contribute to a sustainable planet, 52% of them aren’t aware that washing their clothes in cold water uses 90% less energy, says Ogbonnaya. “Once they are aware, our research shows that they are more likely to adjust their routines to contribute to a better planet.”

By 2030, Tide hopes three out of four loads of laundry will be washed in cold water – a change with the potential to reduce emissions by a cumulative 27 million metric tonnes over the course of the decade.