I consider myself to be quite environmentally conscious. But since I became the owner of an adorable puppy that eats anything in its path – and frantically scramble to pick up any trash on the sidewalk that he might eat – I’ve become acutely aware of the amount of garbage that we produce, so cavalierly discard, and the impact that it has on others.
Pets are a big business in the United States. According to the American Pet Products Association, nearly 72.9 million households own a pet (46.3 million of which are dog owners and are united in having experienced coming home to a destroyed pair of shoes). It’s estimated that Americans spent $52.9 billion on their beloved furry, fluffy and feathery companions. As The New York Times reported last year, “even as the economy for us humans bogs down again, the pet economy has proved remarkably resilient to a weak housing market, high unemployment and those diminished 401(k)s. The industry has continued to grow through the recession, albeit at a slower pace.”
As a new member of the pet-owner demographic, I’m now compelled to apply a sustainability-focused lens to the opportunities and challenges of marketing to pet-owners.
The “Organic” Movement: Just as the green movement has become mainstream among most consumer product goods for humans, pet supplies are also being marketed to environmentally conscious owners with items such as organic food options, toys from recycled products and other natural products. Most major pet stores now have entire sections dedicated to “organic” pet products. Yet, similar to products designed for humans, “organic” and “natural” are terms used wildly and loosely and owners should always read the fine print. While the FDA and USDA regulate some aspects of pet products, there remain significant gray areas. Consumers need clear guidelines to understanding the differences in products and marketers need to be honest about not using these terms as bait for the caring consumer.
The Supply Chain: If it seems like every month there’s a recall announced on a pet food for contamination or toxicity, you’d be underestimating. In 2012, the Humane Society lists more than 20 products that have been recalled for issues such as potential salmonella. The FDA issued a blanket warning on all jerky products made in China. Unfortunately, in too many cases of recalls, they have come after a loved pet has experienced illness, or even death. As consumers, we need to better understand the pipeline within the companies to know where, when and how these products are being made and apply similar principles on our purchasing decisions as we do with what we bring into our homes and feed ourselves and families.
Toxic World: I am always astounded and horrified at what my puppy has managed to eat without necessitating a visit to the vet, and yet, while most pets have heartier digestive constitutions than most humans, they are not invincible. Our pets are being exposed to a plethora of toxins that we have – as a society – become all too comfortable with, like flame retardants, household cleaners, wood sealants, non-stick pans… the list goes on and on. I might have dismissed using an organic floor cleaner in the past, but when my puppy licks the floor, I find that I’m looking at my environment in an entirely different way.