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Sustainability in 2021: What does it look like for pets and their people?

Welcome to a new year!

The year ahead is full of massive challenges, that’s for sure. Thankfully, unlike last year, many of the challenges are known. I think many of us were completely blindsided by much of 2020, and the legacy of that year will greatly inform our progress in 2021. They might even deliver us a few silver linings…

In the meantime, let’s take a look at where we’ve been and where we’re going for sustainability in 2021 for pets and their people.

A computer sits on a desk with plants and greenery. The text overlay reads: Sustainability in 2021 for pets and people.

The Impact of the Pandemic

Rightfully so, we shifted our attention to the health and safety of ourselves and our fellow citizens. At the same time, we saw–dramatically–how shutting down huge swaths of business and industry, the environment started to heal.

Air pollution diminished. The bee population grew. Water quality improved. As one peer-reviewed journal article called it: Coronavirus lockdown helped the environment to bounce back.

So, what next? As much as everyone cries for a return to “normal,” those three examples–three of many–highlight that what was normal can’t continue. Normal was unhealthy. Normal was making US unhealthy. Normal was killing our planet.

Hopefully, as we recover from the COVID crisis, we can focus on what about the pandemic helped our environment. Capture more of that. Do less of what we thought of as normal.

The Impact of Social Revolution

Something I’m determined to learn more about in 2021: how environmentalism intersects with bigger social justice issues, like race and poverty. Social justice and environmental justice are woven together in complex and complicated ways, and I don’t know enough yet to write thoughtfully on those subjects. Suffice it to say at this point: The drive for social justice must include environmental justice. I believe, in 2021, this will be a catalyzing force in the environmental movement because, in 2020, we all saw the impact of unequal rights and are energized and motivated to right those wrongs. (Yes, many people were already aware. Many people were already fighting hard for equality. But lots of folks were newly made aware, and hopefully that tips the scales in the right direction.)

As I learn more, I’ll of course share, but for now, I’ll direct you to folks and organizations well-versed and educated on these topics:

The Impact of the Zero-Waste Movement

This one is perhaps on a more personal note than the rest, but I can’t write this post without touching on the zero-waste movement as a whole.

Most folks who talk about low-impact living are deeply caring, passionate people who want to have a positive impact on the world around them. Lots of others take it a bit too far to be helpful… or even realistic. In 2020, I left several Facebook groups and unfollowed a number of Instagram accounts because they just broke my heart. I feel like it’s a small, tiny percentage of the folks doing the work, but it was incredibly discouraging to see people lamenting the global pandemic, not because of the hundreds of thousands of lives lost or of families ripped apart by sickness or job loss or homelessness. No, these folks were decrying the enormous amount of plastic waste it would take to treat so many sick people.

If we don’t care about each other, then what’s the point of any of this? What’s the point of lessening our impact in the first place if we don’t spread compassion to those around us? This movement should be because we love our fellow humans and the animals we share this planet with, not just a blind commitment to getting rid of plastic waste.

Unfortunately, that attitude also alienates folks who are interested-but-new to learning how to live a more sustainable lifestyle. I get comments and emails often from people saying they appreciate the lack of judgement around here. Shouldn’t that be the case laterally? Don’t we all want to do better, to be better… but none of us want to feel judged or like we’re not good enough.

Small steps = big impact.

I’m hopeful in the year ahead that we all have a little more grace, a little more ease. I’m hopeful we acknowledge every effort each individual makes. I’m hopeful we’ll combat the unreasonable expectations of creating only a small jar of trash or whatever.

Do the best you can with what you have. When you can do more, do it. That, I hope, is the goal for 2021 for each of us.

The Impact on the Pet Industry

Reality: The developing world is suffering. Did you know we export plastic waste to developing countries? The result is both disgusting and devastating. Look at this. Ugh.

However, consumers are becoming increasingly aware of how supply chains work and how companies treat their employees and the planet. It’s all cyclical, and COVID brought it all into the forefront. In November 2020, Medium reported:

As we have seen with a lot of trends over the past seven months, sustainability awareness has only accelerated during the COVID pandemic. This is due to the environmental and social factors that have been front and center on the global stage, showcasing the need for companies to emphasize long-term sustainability over short-term profits. As pollution dropped while people stayed at home, it demonstrated how much impact human activities really have on our environment. Supply chains were also suddenly thrust into the limelight as consumers started to pay more attention to how brands treated their workers and sourced their products. At the same time, COVID has tested how serious companies really are about their initiatives, and reinvigorated internal conversations about the benefits of implementing sustainable practices.

Medium

What does that mean for pet products manufacturers?

A whole heckuva lot.

Consumers are no longer in the dark about how goods are manufactured. They’re no longer unaware of how the supply chain works. They’re no longer willing to accept bad environmental practices for the sake of cost. AND, compounding those factors specifically within the pet industry are two additional realities: First, people demand better for their pets in everything. Spending is solid in the pet space. Second, there is more choice than ever before. Consumers aren’t stuck with a few grocery-store brands of pet food to choose from or a handful of squeaky toys in a bin at the end of an aisle.

Pet product manufacturers are going to have to step up to compete in 2021.

BTW, an industry resource for all things pets and sustainability is the Pet Sustainability Coalition.

What YOU Can Do for a More Sustainable 2021

There’s a lot of big stuff coming to a head. And it’s about time.

But you might be wondering in the meantime what YOU can do, as a pet lover and responsible human… how can YOU affect some sort of change?

We’ll be working to answer that question all year long with our posts and guides on this platform and via email. I’d like to leave you with some concrete ideas, though, and encourage you to take any tiny step you can. It all adds up.

First, beware of greenwashing.

“Greenwashing is the process of conveying a false impression or providing misleading information about how a company’s products are more environmentally sound. Greenwashing is considered an unsubstantiated claim to deceive consumers into believing that a company’s products are environmentally friendly,” according to Investopedia.

As a consumer, it’s on us to buy responsibly, and not falling for crappy claims is part of that. Just because something says “eco” or “natural” or whatever on the label does NOT mean it is.

It’s a simple step to take: Double check claims on the products you buy. If something doesn’t add up, find a substitute.

Then, vote with your dollars.

Support responsible companies. These days, we have a million choices for any product or service we might need (or want). Use your money to vote for the kind of world you want to live in.

Of course, a big part of that is buying less overall, and reusing and recycling more. But let’s be real. We need to buy stuff to live our lives, so focus on spending your money mindfully. Support companies whose environmental practices fit your values.

Finally, do better one step at a time.

Figure out one small step to take, turn it into a habit, then pick another. Some easy ones right off the bat: get outside for some fresh air, plant a tree or pickup a house plant, swap your dog’s food from beef to chicken or fish, start a compost pile.

That’s it for now. I believe in you and I believe in us.

We pet parents can make a huge, positive impact on the planet, and I have faith that 2021 is our year. For more ideas, check out The Ultimate Guide to Becoming a Zero-Waste Pet Parent.

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