PepsiCo Foods, Unilever and Modrobes: An Honest Discussion about Green Consumerism in Canada

tgcghelmitalkingBy: Meirav Even-Har, Toronto

I was pleased with the authentic conversation about consumerism and corporate responsibility. at a recent Toronto Greenhouse Event, Green Consumer Products: Unilever, PepsiCo Foods & Modrobes, The dialogue was honest and the presenters spoke with integrity about successes they are proud of and challenges they still face. Some highlights:

Success stories

Having Modrobes represented in the session provided a good balance to the multi-national presence of PepsiCo Foods and Unilever. Often, in conversations about corporate sustainability Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) are left out, although in Canada they represent over 90% of business. The company's success story so far? According to Modrobes owner, Steven Sal Debus, it is changing the business from traditional manufacturing to a socially and environmentally sustainable one. Presenting the concept on the CBC television show, "Dragons' Den" secured investment to build the infrastructure required for making high quality, sustainable fabric.

For PepsiCo Foods, success has come through achieving a zero waste facility with 99% diversion from landfill, as well as reaching water use targets, among others. While those and other milestones are a source of pride for the company, Helmi Ansari, Director of Sustainability and Productivity clarifies, "We can't say that it's success yet, success is achieving net zero."

Unilever Canada's Vice President John Coyne shared similar success stories that include operational efficiencies such as zero waste to landfill, sustainable supply chain protocols and being the largest purchaser of green energy in Canada. Coyne adds that sourcing from people and organizations that are socially and environmentally sustainable is key. "We are not here for the short term, major commitments and we take it seriously."

.... And Challenges

The biggest challenge for corporate giants Unilever and PepsiCo is current economics. Specifically, the economics between consumption and sustainability, such as the short-term gain approach under which companies. Coyne notes that the practice of economics hasn't changed much and therefore creates "a roadblock to sustainability." This roadblock translates as a risk to investment in clean technologies. PepsiCo Foods "can take bigger risks that smaller businesses just cannot afford," observes Ansari.

For Modrobes, a company that produces an all-sustainable product line, it is the industry itself that creates the roadblock. Sal Debus explains there is a challenge in convincing the trade that consumers want green products. "There is a disconnect with retailers."

All three agree that a major hindrance to driving sustainable consumer products is in part with the consumer-in particular, consumer awareness and knowledge of what it means to live sustainably. Coyne notes that five to seven percent of Unilever's environmental footprint is linked with operations. The rest of a product's footprint is once that item is in consumer hands. Consumer behaviour, therefore, is imperative.

The Next Innovative Move...

Since the three companies continuously invest in innovation, technology is only part of the solution. "Innovation will take us part of the way... we need to have consumers that are sufficiently attuned to this," says Coyne. Ansari adds that companies have a responsibility to both innovate and educate. He gives the example of the compostable Sun Chips bag that had to be removed from shelves in the U.S. because consumers were not ready for change (the new bag material was "too noisy").

Sal Debus concludes the conversation on the need to drive greater growth in green business. He notes that now is the time to implement green business ideas. "We need to get a transformation going, to change hearts and minds. We cannot allow it to incrementally affect us."


•To learn about Modrobes click HERE
•To learn about PepsiCo Canada's Environmental Sustainability commitments click HERE
•To learn about Unilever Canada's Sustainability approach click HERE
•To learn about Toronto Greenhouse click HERE

Image: Toronto Greenhouse Event, Green Consumer Products: Unilever, PepsiCo Foods & Modrobes, courtesy of Toronto Greenhouse.