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Speaking Sustainably

Are you derailing your sustainability story?

<p>For consumers, the little things add up -- like 3-foot-long receipts or plastic packages that take 10 minutes to pry open.</p>

Last week, I was checking out at my neighborhood pharmacy (part of a national chain) and shoved the 12-inch receipt into my purse with the usual irritation. Don’t get me wrong, I am all about discounts. I reviewed the receipt later and tore off a coupon for future use.

But I threw three-quarters of the receipt into my recycle bin, thinking, “Does it really have to be that long? How many other people just throw that into the trash?”

They have obviously been tracking my purchases through their rewards program. They sometimes "get it right" with coupons for the products I regularly purchase — but often they don’t. It occurred to me that this practice, while state-of-the-art when it comes to targeted discounting, actually flies in the face of their growing sustainability as evidenced by the product lines they’ve recently added and the initiatives touted in their corporate sustainability report.

Judging by the Facebook activity on this topic, I’m obviously not the only one who’s had this thought.

The point is that your sustainability story is cumulative. Almost everything you do either adds to it or subtracts from it.

Another example: Apple, a company that has led the electronics industry in some areas of sustainability (particularly product content), has recently come under fire for so-called "planned obsolescence." I have experienced this issue first-hand, as well. In addition to my phone’s rapidly-diminishing charge life, I was chagrined to learn that when I upgraded to my iPhone 5, my charging accessories no longer worked. I had to buy all new ones.

Finally, Walmart, the retail poster child for sustainability, has made great progress in packaging reduction with manufacturers in some categories, like detergents and personal care, but they have a long way to go with toys.

I recently purchased a gift for a little girl that was packaged in such a way that it took 10 minutes and a pair of scissors (which will now no longer cut paper) to get into it. I shudder to think about the mounds of plastic that will be sitting outside American homes (hopefully in recycle bins) on the first trash pick-up day after Christmas.

Companies should think through all of their processes and practices and ask themselves if they are doing things that contradict what they’re saying about sustainability — because actions speak much louder than words.

Top image of a receipt wrapping around a customer's waist by J2THAJOY via Twitter

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