Opinion

Slash Packaging: Earth needs progress not perfection

By Stephan Ango · April 22, 2021

Last year, on Earth Day 2020, I started Slash Packaging β€” a directory of companies that have created a /packaging page, to make their packaging sustainability commitments easily accessible. 

One year later, it's time to reflect on our progress, and what's next.

Over the last 12 months, 60 companies have added a /packaging page, from small startups to public companies. You can explore some of our favorite pages.

While I'm proud of that number, and all the work that these companies have done, it's only a drop in the bucket. Slash Packaging users have searched for 12,905 unique company names on the site. 

That means that only 0.5% of brands offer the information their customers are looking for. These are individual consumers looking for your disposal instructions, your sustainability commitments, and your answers to their packaging questions.

When a search fails, slashpackaging.org shows a screenshot of the company's 404 page. Give it a try, and you'll find messaging that ranges from unfortunate to unintentionally depressing. 

In this process, people are letting their favorite brands know. Some of these brands have taken action but many haven't.

Over the past year I have talked to many employees of companies who want to join Slash Packaging, but have not done so yet. Here are the two most common reasons why:

  1. The people in charge of packaging and sustainability are excited, but they are unable to get the buy-in and help from their colleagues who run the website
  2. The company is actively working on new packaging that will be launching at some unknown point in the future, and that they want to wait until then to add their page

The first blocker has been surprisingly thorny. Often a page exists but is buried deep in the company's help desk. We responded by allowing brands to forward the /packaging URL to another page, so that we could allow more flexibility in the final URL scheme while retaining the standardization and memorability for consumers. This has definitely helped streamline the process for some companies. Adding a forwarding URL typically only takes a couple of minutes for a web developer and can often be done without any technical knowledge in the admin control panel for most websites.

The second blocker is more insidious and speaks to an issue that we need to collectively get over.

Companies are evolving things. They are learning superorganisms. Companies learn in public whether they want to or not. As individuals inside or outside of a company, we need to get more comfortable about imperfections and projects that are a work in progress. Companies, perhaps even more so than people, are afraid of appearing vulnerable. Yet it is that very fear of exposing a problem that prevents a company from solving it.

We should be okay with a company saying: "here's a problem we know about, but we don't know how to solve yet". 

As a customer, I'm excited to know that my favorite brands are aware of improvements they can make to their packaging, and working on them. Tell your customers that you're working on it β€” something is better than nothing.

In the wise words of the Beastie Boys: "We need body rockin', not perfection".

Adding your company to Slash Packaging may only take a matter of minutes. Help the world make progress β€” join at slashpackaging.org/join and ask your favorite brands to join too.

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