Hasbro Targets Greener Packaging and Supply Chain

GI Joe has been green since 1964, when the action figure first went into battle for toymaker Hasbro.

Now the plastic and cardboard package he comes in will be environmentally-friendly, too.

So will the packaging for such classic toys and games as Mr. Potato Head, Play-Doh, Monopoly and Candy Land, all of which, along with more recent phenomena like Littlest Pet Shop and the Transformers, are made by Hasbro, a Pawtucket, RI-based firm that sold about $4 billion of toys last year.

Hasbro releases its first corporate social responsibility report today, and it should be available here. The company offered me a preview of the report and a chance to talk with Brian Goldner, the company's CEO, and Kathrin Belliveau, vice president of corporate responsibility at Hasbro.

Hasbro was formed by brothers Henry and Helal Hassenfeld (get it, Has-bro?) in 1923, and family member Alan Hassenfeld remains on the firm's board; that kind of long-term family ownership often leads to an ethic of social responsibility and, in fact, Hasbro has been paying attention to its social impact for years, particularly when it comes to overseas factories. It's been slower to look at environmental issues  but, even so, the company tops its bigger rival, Mattel, in the rankings released just this week by nonprofit Climate Counts. [See my blog post yesterday, Big Brands Take More Climate Action, But Policy Needed for Progress] Hasbro also ranks No. 59 on FORTUNE's "100 Best Companies to Work For" List.

Goldner has chaired the board's social responsibility committee since 2006. I asked him why the company is doing a report now.

Partly, he said, it's because the company is expanding -- in recent years, it opened marketing and sales offices in China, Brazil, Russia and Korea, among other places -- and Hasbro wants to communicate its values to its employees everywhere.

"As we hire hundreds of new people around the world," Goldner said, "we want people to understand that we're not only in the markets to win but we're there to be a good corporate citizen."

"At the end of the day, I think it comes down to, frankly, myself and our senior management team who feel very strongly about this as individual citizens and people who are running a company," he said. CSR at the company is a "long process of continuous improvement."

Most of the news (such as it is) in today's report is about packaging. The company said it would eliminate polyvinyl chloride (PVC) from "all new core toy and game packaging beginning in 2013," it promised to insure that 90 percent of paper and board packaging will come from recycled material, or from sources that practice sustainable forest management, by 2015, and it noted that it has already replaced all the wire ties in its packages with ties made from paper rattan or bamboo mix. Fun fact: The company said the changeover to rattan and bamboo "eliminated approximately 34,000 miles of wire ties – more than enough to wrap around the circumference of the Earth."

In truth, the planet is unlikely to notice much of this. Reducing packaging is all to the good, but it's a bigger issue when it comes to things we consume frequently (fast food, drinks, groceries, etc). Hasbro's packaging reductions were surely driven, at least in part, by Walmart's attempts to get all of its suppliers to cut back on packaging. I asked Belliveau about this, and she replied: "Certainly their scorecard process, which we have been very committed to, has guided us, but we also have our own aspirations and requirements that are driving our business."