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How to Turn Green Legacy into a Gold Brand

Savings may be driver in green decisions, but the end justifies the motives

Submitted by: Marc Stoiber

Posted: Sep 21, 2011 – 05:18 PM EST

Tags: green, greenwash, sustainability, marketing, renewable, csr


By Marc Stoiber

A few months back, an interesting story caught my eye. It documented the green claims being made by Malt-O-Meal around their plastic bag packaging.

According to Malt-O-Meal, their bags created less environmental impact than the competition’s boxes. They had, in fact, created a website titled 'Bag The Box' to tout these environmental claims.

From a strictly green perspective, this was a bit of a head scratcher: some of Malt-O-Meal’s cereals do come in boxes; the bagged cereal bags are heavy plastic, with environmental baggage of their own; and the bags were introduced as cost-reduction measures years ago – it’s not like Malt-O-Meal woke up one morning and decided to make the world a better place one bag at a time. 

Digging deeper, I discovered Malt-O-Meal actually had a very credible green policy outside the bag. Their manufacturing plants have conservation programs, they’re involved in the US EPA’s SmartWay transport initiative, they purchase renewable energy, save water and waste, and use Energy Star equipment to cut down on power.

But it was the bag, and the potential greenwash that came with it, that made the news. So was it good news for the brand, or bad?

I met with Malt-O-Meal’s consumer marketing manager Linda Fisher to dig into the potential hazards of their approach. Fisher was refreshingly candid and unapologetic.

“We’re a small company – a David among Goliaths – and we introduced bags because they saved money and gave us a competitive edge,” Fisher explained. “Truth is, cost savings were a big driver behind all our initiatives, from energy conservation to waste reduction.”

It must be working. Over the last 10 years, Malt-O-Meal doubled market share to 10 percent. And the company is the only cereal manufacturer to build new plants to meet demand over the last decade.

But will the green bag controversy help or hinder Malt-O-Meal’s growth? Or does it even matter?

I believe imperfect progress is still progress. While the bag is not a green solution, it beats the ‘bag and box’ favored by other manufacturers hands down. In fact, it contains 75% less consumer packaging than a comparably sized box with an interior bag.

It also gains legitimacy, thanks to Malt-O-Meal’s other green initiatives – initiatives I would never have been aware of, were it not for the bag controversy.

Finally, the bag is a good innovation on other fronts. For example, it reduces costs – enabling Malt-O-Meal to compete effectively. And as Fisher says, those cost-savings are passed onto consumers, having saved US families over $1 billion since 2006.

So it would seem that this measure, born of efficiency, has helped create a stronger green brand for Malt-O-Meal. Even if it is in a roundabout way.

Note: An expanded version of this post first appeared on Fast Company. Read it here.

About Marc Stoiber

Marc Stoiber is a creative director, writer, innovator and green brand specialist. He consults with clients across North America. He also speaks and blogs extensively on trends that will influence the destiny of today's brands.

Readers: Do you have examples of other companies who went green for the green? Share your stories on Talkback!

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