The impacts of climate change are being felt and seen around the world in devastating measures, from flooding in India, droughts in Europe, to bushfires here in our own backyard.

With concern growing about how to not only manage, but prevent, these catastrophes, companies are under increasing pressure to reduce their impact towards climate change.

In the pet industry, this means innovative companies are finding novel ways of creating products that reduce their environmental impact, from sourcing new forms of raw materials such as insects or grains, to using compostable or recyclable materials, to giving back to the planet to help balance their carbon offset.

It is a complicated process, but it is an important one. Businesses must identify a solution that reduces their environmental impact but also does not considerably damage their bottom line.

Recent research by IRI has identified that 55 per cent of Australians try to buy environmentally friendly products, and that this trend rings true across all age demographics – from empty nesters to families with young kids through to retired couples.

Daniel Bone, Insights Director, IRI, said that the research highlights the need for brands to not only understand the complexities and characteristics of a sustainability mindset but also be able to respond through action in a meaningful way to attract a greater share of shoppers spend.

“Shoppers have spoken in the strongest possible terms about their views on sustainability – they want to save the planet and feel that they can help do this on a daily basis by making informed and proactive purchasing decisions with their food and grocery shopping.”

Setting targets

Many companies and brands publicly display their sustainability targets and achievements to demonstrate they are taking the right steps to ensuring a prosperous future.

Mars Petcare has set a science-based climate target to achieve net zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions across its full value chain by 2050, including all scope three emissions (as defined by SBTi) such as those created by agriculture and suppliers, through to emissions from consumers using its brands.

Craig Sargeant, General Manager of Mars Petcare Australia, said their pledge accelerates the existing long-term goals Mars has set to reducing absolute emissions from its entire business footprint, eliminating deforestation from its supply chain, and transitioning to 100 per cent renewable energy.

“The majority of our footprint is associated with ingredients within our supply chain and scope three emissions, so we know that by forming partnerships with key suppliers, including local farmers we can have a beneficial long-term effect.” 

Sargeant pointed to the Cool Soil initiative as an example of where Mars has invested in farm resilience.

“Created by Mars and the Sustainable Food Lab as a pilot program to use data to inform soil health, the program has a long-term goal of reducing our reliance on fertilizers and the associated emissions.

“It’s a flagship program for Mars’ sustainability teams that gives hope to our buying team who were challenged to operate as grain supply fluctuated with cataclysmic weather events.”

For less established brands such as The Paw Grocer, measuring sustainability is more about taking the necessary steps to ensure that they’re doing everything they possibly can to reduce contributions to landfill.

Jenny Richards, Founder of The Paw Grocer, said sustainability is incredibly important to her business, and that it will always be front of mind as the business scales.

“Whenever we’re considering a new product, we take sustainability into account and we’re always seeking proteins which would otherwise find their way to landfill. Our chicken wing tips, for example, are a biproduct, which would otherwise be dumped. We also endeavour to procure our meats as close to our freeze dry facility as possible to reduce our carbon paw print.”

While ingredients are something Richards has greater control over, when it comes to packaging, Richards said it is largely out of their hands because they’re dealing with raw meat products.

“We rely on the innovation in this sector. There’s a lot of green-washing going on, whereby brands make grand claims about their biodegradable packaging. In many instances, it’s well and truly over-stated.”

Changing times

Just as humans are changing their diets to create more sustainable outcomes, so too are owners changing the dietary habits of their pets, by choosing pet food not only for its nutritional value but also for its impact on the environment.

AniPal is a brand that was created as a vehicle to rethink and redesign everyday things used in the vet and pet industries to enable pet owners to drive positive, sustainable change.

Stephanie Stubbe, Founder of AniPal, said that a key sustainability issue in the pet industry includes the carbon footprint of a pet’s diet.

“The use of prime human grade meat cuts and ingredients in diets of dogs, uses up a lot of resources including land, energy, and water and this is a main reason a dog’s environmental footprint can be huge. Additionally, with extra things a dog can have like accessories, toys and grooming items, the environmental impact grows again.”

AniPal uses novel proteins in all products including hypoallergenic Australian, organic farmed seaweed and hypoallergenic insect protein.

“All of our products use carbon positive, single protein sources, which not only reduces our carbon footprint and environmental toxic load, but also is great for the health of dogs,” explained Stubbe.

While feeding your pet sustainable pet food is an important part of the process, what happens at the other end? Because what goes in, must come out.

This is where Beco, a brand which produces a range of eco-friendly dog poop bags and has recently been recognised as Climate Neutral and certified as a B-Corp, steps in.

George Bramble, Founder of Beco, said he has seen a growing trend of customers purchasing ‘greener’ products compared to when the brand first launched in 2009.

Bramble was attending the UK dog show Crufts and was advertising a small range of bamboo dog bowls, when a customer approached asking about the bowls.

“With her stating how much she liked the look/feel of the bowls, I was sure I had made the sale – they were already in her bag. However, when asking the price she needed to pay for her two new Beco bowls, she exclaimed that it was ‘too much’ and asked ‘what are they made from?’.

“I, of course, explained both the strength and sustainability benefits with the bowls being made from off-cuts of bamboo chopsticks, and that the price was only minimally higher than other bowls on the market. She wasn’t having any of it, took the bowls out from her bag and walked off.”

Thankfully, that wasn’t a sign of things to come and consumer appreciation for sustainable products has come in leaps and bounds, with Beco launching a 100 per cent Post-Consumer Recycled (PCR) Plastic material for its unscented and scented poop bag range.

“This all came from some research that showed that around 96 per cent of dog owners dispose of their used poop bags in general waste or park bins.”

This statistic got Bramble and the Beco team thinking, because if all those bags are going into landfill, then none of them are breaking down.

“Therefore, our best solution for dog owners who throw away their bags into general waste, is to use our 100 per cent PCR plastic bags. These are 44 per cent more energy efficient to produce, they reduce the bags’ carbon footprint by 86 per cent and gives plastic a second life.

“Making the decision to move to 100 per cent post-consumer plastic, is an example of how we’ve changed our thought process into manufacturing and designing products based around understanding the total product lifecycle.”

Overcoming challenges

Many of the challenges to sustainability have not been faced before, mainly because the importance of sustainability had not been considered seriously until recently.

The methods for achieving these targets are not simple and often involve innovative new technologies and practices, all which costs money.

Bramble explains that these challenges are often as simple as weighing up cost vs function vs durability.

“For example, you can use an incredibly sustainable material, which has very low impact on the environment in production, but the durability may be impaired because of the material you have chosen to use. On the flipside, you can use incredibly durable materials that are terrible for the environment.”

There is a fine line balance and trade-off between material and impact, says Bramble, and if Beco can lean towards a material or production process that has a reduced environmental impact, while maintaining a good level product function and durability, they will.

Educating the public of the importance of utilising sustainable products is another challenge that Stubbe and AniPal have recognised.

“Generally, in the human health care industries, health and wellbeing is becoming increasingly popular, however it’s taking some time for the same consumer to be aware of the environmental footprint and health detriments dogs can have in both their nutrition and day to day life.

“We find consumers really engage with our educational information as well as insights about our ingredients, farming partners and journey of our organisation. This helps more and more people to choose greener, sustainable, and healthy food sources for their pets.”

Sargeant said that at Mars Petcare, they hold the belief that the world they want tomorrow starts with how they do business today, and they are continuously looking for ways they can be more sustainable.

“This includes the best way to source raw materials such as fish or grains, using recyclable materials wherever possible, and accelerating our use of renewable energy to ensure every part of our operations and extended supply chains help people and the planet thrive. 

“At the same time, we recognise that fixing these issues is a generational challenge, which is why we are building lasting partnerships with our ecosystem of suppliers, to make a better world for the next generation of pet owners to enjoy.”

This article originally appeared in the 2023 Winter Issue of Pet Industry News.

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