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Industry and its products have an impact on the natural resource base of civilization through the entire cycle

of raw materials exploration and extraction, transformation into products, energy consumption, waste generation, and the use and disposal of products by consumers. These impacts may be may be negative, as a result of process and product pollution and of depletion or degradation of resources. The twentieth century was a time of unparalleled growth. The worlds population grew to pass the six billion mark. We witnessed the birth of the mass market and the boom in mass production to satisfy its needs. As markets became more competitive, so formal marketing emerged and became increasingly important as a means by which companies could continue to grow their markets and their market shares. The comfortable assumption was that the all-out pursuit of economic growth was the most beneficial strategy for development, because the wealth generated could be invested to improve the quality of life of those inside and outside the industrialized economies. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, the social and environmental consequences of the unquestioning pursuit of economic growth have become increasingly clear. In 1992 UNCED, the Earth Summit in Rio, addressed two of the greatest moral issues of our time: environment and development.1 For the new century, the key challenge for mankind is to find more sustainable and equitable ways to produce, consume and live. Sustainability was once a vision of the future shared by an environmentally-orientated few. Now, young people are at the vanguard of the environmental movement. Teens today are reducing, reusing and recycling, and they are spending their allowances to support global ecology efforts and to buy eco-friendly products. Teenagers of this generation have grown up in an era where global warming is an accepted fact and saving the planet is a necessity, not a luxury. Because of these values, more and more teens are willing to step up and do something about helping the environment. How, actually, do they try to aid the environment? There are many ways through which teens they do it. The most relevant may be as following: purchasing eco-friendly products and support green businesses. In this essay I'm going to analyse what are the problems that a company producing plastic sandwich bags has to face, as a result of this green movement, and what may be the solutions that can put the company in a leadership position. According to the Film and Bag Federation, plastic sandwich bags were introduced in 1957,

1 Benefeting businesses and the environment, Institute of Business Ethics, 1994, pag.8

and quickly became a part of our routines.2 There is no shortage of information as to why a company should pay attention to the environment. As society becomes more concerned with the natural environment, businesses have begun to modify their behaviour in an attempt to address society's "new" concerns. A more environmentally aware public and their demand for a sustainable development has lead to the concept of corporate social responsibility (CSR). The European Commission de- fines CSR as: ...a concept whereby companies integrate social and environmental concerns in their business operations and in their interaction with their stakeholders on a voluntary basis.3 In other words, sustainable development seeks to meet the needs and aspirations of the present without compromising the ability to meet those of the future. But, as we all know, economic growth always brings risk of environmental damage, as it puts increased pressure on environmental resources. Although a firm guided by the concept of sustainable development will necessarily work to assure that growing economies remain firmly attached to their ecological roots and that these roots are protected and nurtured so that they may support growth over the long term. 4 Contrary to popular belief, there is a growing movement to increase access to recycle plastic bags not eliminate them at all as many teenagers would think. For example New Jersey, Connecticut, and cities in California have all taken recent action to table legislation that would ban certain types of plastic bags and instead are now looking to implement plastic bag recycling programs.5 Do teens know that plastic bags are convenient, low-cost and better for the environment, recycling, reuse, energy and natural resource efficiency, and public health than bags made of alternative materials?6 Should then a company producing plastic sandwich bags diversify its production from plastic to paper, as many believe that would be better for the environment? Let's list some information: plastic bags are 100% recyclable and for all environmental impacts related to air emissions, water emissions and solid waste those of paper bags are significantly greater than that of plastic grocery bags: 2 3 4 Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development: Our Common Future 5 6

1. Plastic bags use 40% less energy to produce and generate 80% less solid waste than paper. 2. Paper bags generate 70% more emissions, and 50 times more water pollutants than plastic bags.7 3. Even paper bags made from 100% recycled fiber use more fossil fuels than plastic bags. 4. People think that plastic bags are the largest component of landfills and the primary component of litter.8 In reality, the item most frequently encountered in landfills is paper on average, it accounts for more than 40% of a landfill's contents. 9 Newspapers alone take up as much as 13% of landfill space. 10 5. Cigarette butts, chewing gum, and candy wrappers account for about 95% of all litter in the English-speaking world.11 Though it is true that plastic grocery bags take 1,000 years to decompose in landfills: but virtually nothing not paper, food, plastic or even compostable or bio degradable products decompose in todays landfills, because they are actually designed to be as stable and dry as possible. As a research by William Rathje, who runs the Garbage Project, has shown that when excavated from a landfill, newspapers from the 1960s can be intact and readable.12 Youngs can claim that plastic bags waste a great amount of resources: despite the popular belief, the figures show that plastic bags are extraordinarily energy-efficient to manufacture. Less than .05% of a barrel of oil goes into making all the plastic bags used in the US while 93% - 95% of every barrel of crude oil is burned for fuel and heating purposes. Although they are made from natural gas or oil, plastic bags actually consume less fossil fuels during their lifetime than do compostable plastic and paper bags. 13 Yet, for people who live near water, they think that paper bags are the environmentally friendly choice to protect marine wildlife: they don't take into account that, since paper bag production has more negative environmental impacts related to air emissions, water emissions and solid waste than plastic grocery bags, theyre not a solution. Recycling and proper disposal of all products would make sure that any threat to the 7 U.S. EPA website, 8 REPA of Polyethylene and Unbleached Paper Grocery Sacks, Prepared for the Solid Waste Council, Franklin Associates Report, June 1990 9 U.S. EPA website, 10 11 Litter composition survey of England, october 2004, produced by ENCAMS 12 13

environment, including wildlife, would be reduced. People can say that recycling plastic bags is too expensive: well, the price of not recycling them is still higher. Recycling can help save resources and minimize the amount of waste going to landfills. Also, recycling helps reduce litter, as bags are contained and stored. Its worth noting that it takes 91% less energy to recycle a pound of plastic than it takes to recycle a pound of paper.14 All these information are not well spread among people, in particular customers whom decisions could affect a company producing plastic bags. I would argue that just a few percentage that the persons taking part of the green movement are aware of these data. So, coming back to the initial question: is it worth for a plastic bag maker to diversify entering in the production of paper bags or other alternative materials? According to the information I have found and listed the answer is no. As I have tried to show there are plenty of myths spreading around customers about plastic bags. Thus, there is the need for the company to communicate and I would also say to teach customers that plastic bags are not so harmful if they are treated in the right way. The key challenge is then: education about recycling, as well as responsible use and disposal of all materials and products, is the only way to reducing litter and waste. Yet, among consumers is possibile to notice that ethical issues have become of greater importance when evaluating a company.15 That's why company's way to communicate its activity, and in particular CSR activities, is challenge for gaining market share. The way a company deals with ethical issues can have a direct influence on consumers purchase behaviour. CSR activities are, therefore, the key challenge facing beneficial for a company producing sandwich plastic bags. It is worth to say that if youngs feel that they can make a difference through supporting companies that engage in socially responsible actions this is likely to contribute to a long term positive attitude which, in turn, enhances consumer loyalty. However, since consumers need time to learn about a companys social actions and companies need to earn the trust of consumers in order to build up this kind of positive consumer-company relationship, financial payoffs as a result of CSR is likely to take time. Hence, CSR actions should be undertaken primarily as part of a long-term strategy.16 14 15 Worchester, R. and Dawkins, J. Surveying Ethical and Environmental Attitudes, 2006 16 Mohr, L. A. and Webb, D. J. The Effects of Corporate Social Responsibility and Price on Consumer Responses, Journal of Consumer Affairs, 2005

One of the practical problem involved in achieving progress in terms of improved environmental performance is that there are high costs related. Yet these costs are often higher for companies which take a short term view of their actions merely reacting to new regulations rather than aiming for long term environmental excellence. Thus, how actually a company can react to the green movement? I would say through differentiation, source reductions, recyclability of packaging and long-term commitment to environment. Let's take a look at them: a company could gain market share through differentiating its product: for example, it can market only bags made from recycled plastic and not from oil as a way to offer to customers what they really want to aid the environment. An interesting example is the case of Wrap-n-Mat.17 They claim that with their product you can say goodbye to sandwich bags. Wrap-N-Mat is an environmentally-friendly, re-usable sandwich wrap and placemat in one. You simply place the sandwich or any other snack foods in the centre of the wrap and fold left to right, top to bottom and close the hook and loop fasteners. These wraps are made with a thicker version of low-density polyethylene, the same material used to make most plastic sandwich bags, but he thicker material makes them reusable. A logical argument Wrap-n-Mat rely on is that people that are concerned about the environmental threat may want to contribute as much possible to the prevention of this. Hence, these people should in accordance with this argument have a higher willingness to pay for environmental benefits than those not concerned about the environmental threat. The idea of environmental product differentiation for a company is to develop products that offer greater environmental benefits, alternatively are less harmful for the environment in comparison to competing products. Environmentally product differentiation may be a way to develop products that are less environmentally burdensome to produce than those offered by competitors so that can increase the sales and therefore the profit. As consumers people have a choice about what they buy and from whom they buy: when offering an environmentally friendly product to customers and even more importantly when taking out a premium cost for this product, it is important that the target consumers (in this case young people) understand in which aspects the product is environmentally friendly. In what sense is the product different from similar products and what are the product attributes that makes it less environmentally harmful? If this information is missing or not

credible enough, consumers will not be motivated to buy the environmentally friendly product (and paying a premium cost) in place of a similar product. Yet, as a way to react to this movement, resource and environmental considerations must be integrated into the industrial planning and decision-making processes. They are essential matters about which consumers would like to know where the company stands. A companys commitment to social responsibility has, therefore, become a competitive factor to the traditional determinants of consumer purchase decisions such as price and quality. No activity is without environmental impact as I said before, even if they are not all subject to laws and regulation. Thinking efficiency, thinking quality, looking for new users for materials previously considered waste, taking ideas from people at all levels in the company all these things characterise the company that can put itself in a leadership position.