There’s this little important detail on every product that we buy – the manufacturer’s contact coordinates (address, phone number, email ID), wherein we can send in feedback and/or complaints. Easy to miss, and we actually do. Unless maybe we are saddled with a defective piece.

Then a CauseBecause team member had a brainwave – let us make good use of these details and ask some well-known brands/companies about the things they have been doing for the sake of sustainability.

Makes sense, right? There’s all the evidence in the world that a small and increasing number of people are paying more and more attention to things like – 

  • Is this product good for me and also good for the environment?
  • Is the company making this product in an environment-friendly way at all (think waste management, think carbon emissions)?
  • Is this company ethical (think supply chain, think treatment of workers, think inclusiveness)?

These conscious consumers want to know whether companies are doing right by the planet, first and foremost, and by the people they are selling stuff to. Now, there’s no easy or simple way to know that for sure, but having them say that they are doing a few things right is a start—a commitment, if you may. In any case, a good brand in general will be forthcoming about information.

So, here we go. 

Just 3 questions
We settled on three questions that would cover most of the points we wanted covered—basically, ‘getting the most results with the minimum fuss’ sort of thing. And one would write to the customer care/feedback email ID (refer to first paragraph) as an ordinary customer (which is true), not as a reporter.

Reproducing the email content:

‘I am a regular consumer of your products and have a few queries for the brand/company:

1. Do you have a mechanism to track where all the packaging material goes? Do you know how much of it is being recycled/reused and what happens to the rest?

2. What initiatives or policies are in place to balance the company’s carbon footprint – from manufacturing to supply chain to the product’s end of life (including packaging)?

3. What are some of the benefits of the products?’

Back-packet route explained
CauseBecause follows the simple, standard protocol of reaching out to companies for their inputs or quotes for a news piece or a feature. Our editor, feature writer or correspondent writes to the company’s communication, CSR or sustainability team for the same. Over the years, more and more entities have been actively responding to most of our queries (especially those who have sustainable business practices to talk about, or causes that they have invested in and want to propagate/be known for).

However, for this particular piece, we did not reach out as Team CauseBecause, but as individuals, as conscious and aware consumers who wish to know more than what is written on the products’ labels, things that are more than about a product’s quality and price and are more about the company’s sustainability commitment. 

We used our personal email IDs (not CauseBecause IDs) and wrote to the company’s ‘customer care’ – the first point of contact for any consumer to reach out and communicate with their brand. 

The purpose of the month-long exercise was to find out a) how the companies or the popular brands’ customer care would respond to their consumers’ queries on sustainability and CSR practices, and b) if they had enough content in the public domain.

 CB’s queries were sent to these companies:

  • Adidas
  • Audi India
  • Britannia
  • Colorbar Cosmetics
  • Fabindia
  • Forest Essentials
  • Geo-Fresh
  • Greendot Health Foods (Cornitos Nacho)
  • Juicy Chemistry
  • Just Organik
  • H&M
  • Haldiram
  • Honda Cars India
  • IFB
  • Kia India
  • LG India
  • Lakme
  • Levi Strauss
  • MG Motor India
  • Mamaearth
  • Mango
  • Maruti Suzuki
  • Modi-Mundipharma Beauty Products
  • Nike
  • Nutriorg
  • Organic Tattva
  • Panasonic
  • Pepsico
  • Puma
  • Quest Retail
  • Saksham Impex
  • Sebamed
  • Tata Motors
  • The Body Shop India
  • Trent (Westside)
  • Whirlpool

JUICY CHEMISTRY
Mechanism to track packaging material/how much of it is being recycled/reused
Unfortunately, there is no mechanism to track where all the packaging material is going. Although in accordance with the COSMOS standard all material used in packaging needs to be highly recyclable (glass/aluminium/paper and PET-G for our liquid shampoos), we have little control on what the user is intending to do with the packaging material. To facilitate recycling of our bottles, Juicy Chemistry has a recycle programme and the details of the same are given here: https://juicychemistry.com/pages/re-cycle-reward-program.

Carbon footprint – from manufacturing to supply chain to the product’s end of life
We are currently working with Tree-Nation to offset our carbon footprint. Apart from that, we have our ‘organic’ credentials. We are not reliant on synthetic fertilisers for growing our produce, thereby drastically reducing the organisation’s overall carbon footprint. We use predominantly nitrogen-based fertilisers in our farming. As an ISO 14001-certified organisation, we are also an environmentally responsible entity.

Product benefits
In addition to being an organic brand, we are also cruelty-free and use only recyclable materials—95% of our packaging items are glass, paper and aluminium. We have a huge range of products that are also vegan-friendly. We work with local craftsmen and cane workers to help them financially, and also ensure financial freedom for women workers so they can afford quality education for their little ones. 

One can read more about our CSR here: https://juicychemistry.com/pages/jc-care

JUST ORGANIK
‘It is very heartening to see that our consumers are as conscious about the well being of the planet as they are about their own well being. The whole idea about organic is the well being of the smallest of the organisms in the soil so that chemicals do not kill them, ultimately resulting in a product that respects the sanctity of Mother Nature. Organic is about adapting natural and traditional crop-growing practises, and that’s where it starts.’

Mechanism to track packaging material/how much of it is being recycled/reused
At this point in time, unfortunately the waste-management process in India is not streamlined. We do not have a mechanism whereby we can track the whereabouts of the used packaging material. We have put marks on the packaging so that consumers are cautious and can send it for recycling. In reality, it gets picked up by the ragpicker and goes for recycling. Having said so, we are in the process of launching biodegradable packing material and that should be able to eliminate the concerns around this to a great extent.

Carbon footprint – from manufacturing to supply chain to the product’s end of life
The actual process starts with the farming itself. We are currently a participant with a carbon credit programme and tracking the carbon credits. In the manufacturing process, most work is done in a facility that needs minimum artificial lighting. We are moving towards solar/renewable energy source for our energy needs to further reduce our carbon footprint.

Product benefits
Organic itself is the first step towards health, as you avoid harmful chemicals on your plate. These chemicals could be very, very harmful for your health. Just Organik products come from a land that was never polluted. Primarily cultivated in Uttarakhand, these products have a better nutrition profile and are softer on the digestive system. We encourage you to visit our website and read through the many articles on this particular subject.

MAMAEARTH
‘Mamaearth believes that goodness lies in the little choices we all make. That’s why we’ve chosen for our products to be free of harmful chemicals and toxins.We also pledge to recycle more plastic than we use, and remain plastic-positive. We have partnered with Gem Enviro for the collection and recycling of plastic, and have recycled 240 metric tons of plastic in September 2021 itself.

For more on our pledges, and to see how much plastic we’ve recycled, you can visit https://mamaearth.in/pledge. We recently launched our Plant Goodness initiative wherein we link every consumer’s order to a tree that we planted. As of now, we have planted 161,769 trees.

We intend to stay committed to our purpose and continue taking steps to make the world a better place, one toxin-free product at a time.’

NUTRIORG
Mechanism to track packaging material/how much of it is being recycled/reused
Nutriorg is a health and wellness company, and its first responsibility is to protect Mother Nature. Talking about our packaging, we ensure that all materials are reusable and recycled. From plastic to glass-based packaging material, everything is eco-friendly. We use reusable plastic. Primarily we use high-density polyethylene (HDPE) plastic to manufacture our plastic containers, and for the rest, we use glass bottles.

Our raw materials are entirely organic and pure. After recycling/reusing, the remaining waste is dumped in the company’s pitches, which are 20 feet deep and broad – suitable for the decomposition process. For months the waste remains in the pitches to ferment, then used as ‘khaad’ in the field. The cow dung and urine are also used as khaad in our field sites.

Carbon footprint – from manufacturing to supply chain to the product’s end of life
Nutriorg’s farmlands have more than 2 lakh plantations. The number of plants that we grow is increasing every year. Our projects are 100% eco-friendly as we use solar energy and deep irrigation in our manufacturing and production process. We have a complete water-reverse system; water is recycled and reused.

At Nutriorg, we are committed to making nature-based products.

Product benefits
Nutriorg is dedicated to health and wellness, and all of its product range carries immense health benefits.

Among the key health properties are:

  • Immunity-boosting
  • Diabetic care
  • Metabolism-boosting
  • Blood purification (detox range)
  • Heart care
  • Maintaining blood pressure
  • Strengthening bone and muscle health
  • Improving gut health
  • Energy-boosting
  • Weight management
  • Skin and hair care
  • Improving oral health

SEBAMED
The spokesperson directed us to the parent website – https://www.sebamed.de.

Mechanism to track packaging material/how much of it is being recycled/reused
When selecting packaging materials, the Boppard-based company ensures that

  • weight and packaging materials are reduced
  • paper packaging from sustainable forestry is used
  • packaging materials are biodegradable
  • packaging components can be recycled

Carbon footprint – from manufacturing to supply chain to the product’s end of life
As per the company’s claims, CO2 emissions in the first quarter of 2018 decreased by 32% per kg of consignment weight. The key factors for this success in logistics were: bundling the flow of goods; route planning for vehicles, and utilisation levels of transport.

When selecting suppliers, the company focuses on the use of regional products and sustainable agriculture, and the sustainable management of supplier companies, among other things.

Product benefits
Particular attention is given to the choice of the raw materials, where not only the origin, quality and purity are taken into account but also that they have the lowest possible allergenic potential. When selecting the ingredients, the company focuses on near-natural products, tried-and-tested active agents and formulations that have scientifically proven, positive effects on the skin.

The surfactants in the skin-cleansing products and shampoos are almost 99% biodegradable and do not pollute the groundwater. Sebamed does not use highly controversial microplastics in its products.

THE BODY SHOP
‘Plastic pollution is a threat to our world. Only 9% of used plastic is recycled globally. The Body Shop India’s ‘Bring Back our Bottles’ initiative is a conscious step towards controlling plastic pollution.

At The Body Shop, we believe that something good comes from good intentions. We encourage employees to learn new skills by funding various training programmes, togetherness activities and healthcare. We have a global policy for all our staff: spend at least three days per year doing volunteering work.’

PUMA
The spokesperson directed us to this link – https://about.puma.com/en/sustainability/our-approach

Some extracts:
Sourcing materials and manufacturing products leave an environmental and social footprint behind. Only if we aim to make our entire sourcing and production processes more sustainable, we can optimize the impact PUMA has on the environment and communities. This is why we are sourcing key materials such as cotton, polyester, leather and cardboard from more sustainable sources. We are striving to eliminate more and more chemicals from our production processes and to reduce our carbon emissions in our own operations as well as in our supply chain.

The majority of our environmental and social impacts are created in our supply chain. Therefore, we are working in partnership with our vendors to achieve our common goals – from ensuring fair working conditions and effective pollution controls to the development and use of more sustainable materials.

SONY INDIA
‘At Sony, we are committed towards a cleaner, safer and greener environment. Our e-waste management reaffirms our commitment to ensuring compliance with environmental laws in India. Scientific disposal of e-waste reduces environment pollution. We have collection centres in most of the major cities in the country.’ 

The spokesperson shared this link – https://www.sony.co.in/microsite/environment-policy/ewaste/

Fun facts – automated assumptions
1. Some companies’ auto response acknowledges the ‘inconvenience caused’ and apologises for the same, clearly assuming that all emails sent to them are complaints!

2. Automated responses, especially from the automobile companies, ask for your phone numbers and product details. If you do not share the same, the query closes and the ‘complaint’ is settled. So, our queries (not complaints) got registered as ‘tickets’ that were closed because of ‘no further response from the customer’. Hence, so far as these companies are concerned, the onus is on us, the customers, to get the answers to our questions – they wouldn’t respond unless we provided our personal details. 

3. Some smaller brands (small only in terms of revenue, volumes and market share, not otherwise) also have the automated acknowledgement system, but do not consider all emails as complaints. Their quick responses in real time were quite surprising for Team CB.

4. It’s not that the companies that did not respond do not have anything to share with regard to their sustainability practices. It’s more likely that they do not have a mechanism/standard operating procedure or protocol to have such queries answered via the ‘customer care’ route.

The no-response responses
Some companies had their feedback mechanism completely on automation, which in the context of our queries made their responses funny—and irrelevant and useless too.

Some samples:

Lakme
Dear Customer,

Greetings from Lakme India!

1. Please click on the link below to track your order or shipment status with your order id or tracking number. 

https://lakmeindia.com/pages/track-order 

2.  Please feel free to contact us on 1800-313-9293 or write to us at support@lakmeindia.com regarding your concern or any other query related to your online product purchase from our website with the mail subject in this format – <Query type> | Order Id <XXXXXX>

We appreciate your patience and understanding. Hope to serve you again soon!

On the same date, another mail comes from the Lakme people which does not even pretend to wait for a response to the mail above. Reproducing the same here:

Dear —,
Your ticket – query –  has been closed.
We hope that the ticket was resolved to your satisfaction. If you feel that the ticket should not be closed or if the ticket has not been resolved, please reply to this email.

Colorbar
Before closing the query with the mail below, the feedback team sent about 5 to 6 mails that began with the very flattering ‘Hey gorgeous…’ (flattering only until you remind yourself that it’s an automated response…)

Would like to share that Colorbar believes in creating a value system and setting examples for the world through our products.

We maintain high-quality standards and take extra initiative to be environment-friendly. Also, all our products are GMP certified.

Hope it answers your query.

Fabindia
This is to acknowledge that your ticket has been created with ticket id 3234203 and subject ‘query’. We are reviewing your query, we will get back to you with the best possible solution in the next 24-48 hours.

Due to recent outbreak of Covid-19, as a precautionary measure we are working from home with limited resources. Therefore your wait time might be longer while you call us or write an email. We assure you that we are working with utter most (sic) diligence to resolve your queries.

IFB
…We apologise for the inconvenience caused to you by the IFB product you are using. Kindly share your register mobile number (which given in the time of purchaser product) to assist you.

Maruti Suzuki
We request you to send us the following information, to expedite in this case.

-Kindly confirm whether you have purchased any vehicle or not
-If yes, then confirm the model name and variant (e.g. LXI, VXI) of the vehicle
-Kindly share the name and complete address of the concerned dealership
-Kindly elaborate your concern
-Share your contact number for further communication
 

Thanking & assuring you of our best services at all times.

For automobile companies, these were the queries:

1. As per the new law, a vehicle’s life is about 15 years. Do you have any policy/scheme to make consumers aware about this?

2. Do you have a system to track what happens to the vehicles that have reached their end of life?

3. Has the company done any research or any data with regard to how much total emissions (approximate/average of all models that they manufacture) are caused by a vehicle until it reaches its end of life?

Thought
When was the last time you wrote to the customer care of any of your favourite brands, the brands that you buy or use everyday – your toothpaste, clothes, vehicle, everything in your kitchen, your appliances, or the services that you pay for, and asked them about their contribution towards environment conservation and protection, about how much they care about their customers’ health, or about what makes them socially responsible and conscious corporate citizens?