by Megan Yarnall In my last post, I mentioned how critical education is in influencing consumer behavior, and how the onus for change falls largely on the consumer. Educating consumers about the effect of toxins from products is crucial in consumers’ understanding of how something affects their overall health and the environment, and how the product can be used in a way that minimizes impact. However, education isn’t the only role a brand must play in promoting a green lifestyle.

While consumers have various options for what they do with the packaging after they’ve used the product, it’s only been recently that they have more green choices when it comes to what’s inside that product they purchase. The only party that can be held responsible for what’s inside the packaging is the manufacturer itself.

While I feel strongly that consumers must demand change in order to achieve change, in the end, it’s the responsibility of brands to be accountable for what goes inside the packaging. Consumers can help affect the choices that brands make by voting with their dollars, but if consumers only have green options to choose from they will go green. They’ll have no other choice.

Let’s take CFCs, for example. CFC stands for chlorofluorocarbon, which was a popular chemical compound used for dry cleaning, aerosol cans, and refrigeration/air conditioning, until it was realized that CFCs have an incredibly negative effect on the ozone, eating away at it quite quickly. When this was discovered, regulations on CFC use were put into place and countries around the world began making efforts and timelines to cut down on (and eventually try to cut out) CFC use.

Governments enacted standards and regulations, and brands made efforts to move away from CFC use in their products and maintain tighter control. Brands had to change their habits in order to adhere to regulations. Consumers had no choice but to buy products with limited CFCs – and other ways to fulfill the same needs were found.  A more recent, example is the use of low VOC (volatile organic compounds) paints. But with limited government regulation, as was the case with CFC, the move to low VOC has been much more tempered.

While most negative environmental factors don’t have such a timely impact on the atmosphere or the Earth, they have an impact nonetheless. Government, brands, and consumers all need to play their part in cutting back on use of products that have a negative impact, whether it be environmental or health. Consumers must realize that what lies inside a package can affect environmental health and personal health. Brands must take responsibility for the scale of those effects and take control over what they expose both consumers and the environment to. When consumers don’t have the choice to expose toxins to the environment, they won’t do it – simply because they can’t.

And finally, in order to get all brands on board, corporate responsibility regulations and standards must be enacted so that these brands are held responsible by someone other than themselves – this will make them take action. Consumers can influence this as well by choosing wisely from the options on the shelf. Brands will have to take into account both the consumer and the government, and with everybody on board to make a change, the positive green differences will begin to surface. The CFC and VOC example shows clearly that it takes all three of these stakeholders in order to enact any massive social change. So instead of finger pointing and hand wringing it is time for a little more teamwork and shared responsibility between consumers, corporations and governments.

The only question left should be – to what degree can we start holding brands responsible for what they’re providing to the environment? How about consumers? Or Governments? For TerraCycle, the answer is easy. Because we’re an environmental company, we hold ourselves to the highest standard. Otherwise, our mission would be pointless and null. For other environmental companies, the same truth holds. How can other businesses and companies be brought on board?