“Voting with your wallet”
Spending your money consciously and “voting with your wallet” is an important way to facilitate change in a capitalist system. As consumers and customers, it’s beneficial to provide feedback to companies, whether positive or negative, as it does have an impact on how they conduct their business. In this post, I share how companies responded to my feedback on sustainability. My primary focus was about reducing plastic waste, so this post is a perfect way to end #plasticfreeJuly. It’s a long one, so grab a cup of tea!
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.
I hope my experiences inspire you to reach out to the companies you love, and to question those who have dubious or harmful practices. Vote with your money! If you’re impressed with a company’s ethics and/or environmental policy, let them know. Give them your business (within your budget). If they disappoint you, maybe it’s time to take your loyalty elsewhere.
If a company’s environmental practices and claims are unclear, ask for clarification. An example of this is when I contacted a Love Beauty & Planet skincare line about their ambiguous claims, which you can read about in Companies that are Greenwashing. If you want a company to change because you’re frustrated with their packaging, ingredients etc. reach out, ask for change, and make your dissatisfaction apparent. More often than not, your feedback won’t lead to immediate transformation. However, telling a company that you will no longer support them because, for instance, their packaging is non-recyclable, and then boycotting them is voting with your wallet. If enough people do this, change can happen! Also, I’ve found that the smaller the company is, the more willing they are to take your suggestions on board.
Writing to Companies
When you reach out to a company it’s crucial that you are polite, and that you recognise the person responding is usually a customer service employee, not the person responsible for policies. They might not even work for that brand. I deem a positive response to be: getting a response at all, being truthful and transparent, addressing my specific question, and bonus if they say they’ll pass my comment to the manager/design team.
Example letter that I tailor to a specific company
For the attention of the product design team,
I am a long time, loyal customer and I particularly love [product name]. I am also working hard to reduce my plastic consumption. I’m reaching out to you to request information on [brand name’s] sustainability goals and current environmental and recycling policies, as these are not on your website. I would like to know what your company is doing in effort to produce cosmetics in a more eco-friendly way, and if you’re working to reduce your carbon footprint; a recognizably huge challenge in the cosmetics industry. I’d like to know if the design team is exploring alternatives like compostable packaging, or packaging made from recycled materials.
Thank you in advance for any information you can provide, and I hope that I can continue supporting your brand.
Responses from Companies
I applaud that their environmental statement is easily accessible online. I emailed Waitrose about a few specific own-brand products to see if they will move to recyclable packaging soon, as the 2023 target for recyclable/compostable packaging has been pushed forward for some products. The response I got was generic and merely stated that they’re working towards the target. Waitrose can do better. If they are presenting themselves as champions of unpackaged groceries, they should be able to engage with customers about their own-brand products. I consider this response a fail because the customer service employee didn’t actually answer my questions.
I reached out to this company because they do have sustainability content on their website, and claim to use “natural” ingredients in their products [these are “organically-derived”, but I don’t believe this means they’re certified organic]. Burt’s Bees also has a line of lipsticks in recycled/recyclable packaging. I wanted to know if the brand was going to move to plastic-free packaging. I did receive a response, but they simply thanked me for my feedback, assured me they took it seriously, and that they would pass my comments to the rest of the team. It’s great that I got a response, but it didn’t address my questions. Moreover, a dead giveaway that the employee wasn’t actually going to pass my feedback on was when they wrote “thank you for contacting us at (brand)”… who does that person ACTUALLY work for?
This small UK children’s organic clothing company takes customer service seriously. They sent my order to the wrong person and I had the manager emailing with me in less than 24 hrs. While I was at it, I asked if they were considering not using the plastic bags the clothes come in. The manager responded to my query in detail and then took the time to send me an update.
Their reasoning behind using plastic packaging is to keep the garments clean, labelled, and easily stored in their warehouse. They need to protect the clothing from rain and humidity during transport. Although they’re looking for alternatives, the bags can be recycled at larger collection points, and the manager mentioned that she used her bags as bin liners. She later updated me to say they were exploring supplier options for an eco outer bag. Now this is a winning response! Oh, and their clothes are adorable.
Bourjois and Rimmel
After emailing these two cosmetics brands separately, I learned that they are both owned by Coty. I never had a response regarding Rimmel, and I had a generic response when I asked if they intended to switch from plastic packaging for Bourjois foundations. The moral of this story is that the cosmetics corporations are not looking to change, so I’d recommend spending your money on brands that remotely care about the planet.
This is a woman who runs a small cloth pad company in the UK (you can visit her shop on Etsy). Again, I asked her about sending items in plastic packaging, and the screenshot shows that it is an important issue for her company that she is trying to solve.
The Body Shop
The Body Shop does talk about environmental and sustainability standards on their website, but I wanted to know whether they would consider switching their plastic packaging to clear plastic, which is easier to recycle than tinted or black plastic. In the response I received, after I’d emailed them in October 2018, they thanked me for my feedback and promised they’d taken my suggestions on board. The employee wrote:
The Body Shop is undertaking a new global approach to reducing its use of virgin plastic by introducing post-consumer recyclate, recycled plastic, into its PET plastic bottles. It is estimated that this initiative will save 70 tonnes of virgin plastic in the first year alone, and it is the most effective solution, so far, to minimize packaging in the history of the Body Shop. PET represents 70% of all our plastic bottled. All PET bottles will contain 30% recycled plastic.
30% recycled plastic isn’t good enough (i.e. I’d prefer to see no plastic, or 100% recycled plastic at the very least). But, the good news is I checked The Body Shop’s website and from June 2019 many of their products will have 75% PCR! And they’ve introduced a bottle-return scheme with TerraCycle. I think that’s progress!
Kallø Rice Cakes
In response to contacting them to see if they’re planning to switch to recyclable packaging any time soon they wrote:
“Unfortunately at present our packaging is not recyclable as there is no available recyclable material that will sufficiently retain the freshness of our product. We are however currently looking into recyclable alternatives, and your comments and feedback have been sent to our Product Development Team and Brand Managers for consideration. Thank you once again for taking the time to contact us”.
This is a positive response. I politely responded thanking them for getting back to me and said that, for the meantime, I won’t be buying their product but I hope to see it on the shelves in recyclable packaging soon.
I’ve saved my favourite example for last. I was searching for a package free natural soap on Etsy for Lucy’s Christmas stocking and came across Wild Aura (which I talk about in my Zero Waste Toiletries post). When I placed the order, I requested that the soap be wrapped and shipped in plastic-free or recycled packaging. I got a response from the owner apologising for the delay in sending my soap. They liked my suggestion so much they were taking the time to switch their packaging over to brown paper. Success!
Have you written to companies about their sustainability practices, and if so, what types of responses have you received?