Recalling my Meeting with Pangea Organics Founder Joshua Onysko @ Arcosanti

Drawing of Joshua Onkyo's vision for the Pangea Institute

I recall my meeting with Joshua Scott Onysko @ Arco in 2003 (?). I remember him as someone inspired by the Arco vision and set-up. His dream was to design something similar to Arco in Colorado. He was giving out bunches of progressive, anti-war bumper stickers, several of which were eventually distributed around Arcosanti and at other places by me.

Visiting his personal blog, I was intrigued by his claim that green products are usually 1 percent or less of most company’s portfolios. This makes me wonder what exactly is the criteria and meaningfulness of considering a company’s products as “Green.” Such a process is critical to consider in planning and moving towards real sustainable development.

What does it take to actually be a “Green Company?”:

  1. What exactly is his criteria for making their products “Green?”
  2. What does it mean to be “Green Business/Company?”
  3. What are the goals and timeline towards making the vision of “Green” a reality.

So I considered carefully his claims, his vision (and of course the fact that his vision for the Pangea Institute mixed use development appealed to me given my gravitation to Arcosanti…) and his attempts to back the claims up with some facts on his website.

The company does not have a dedicated page to outline its sustainability criteria, goals and accomplishments in a clear and quantifiable way. I found some resources about the important of clearly stating what the word GREEN means when you use it as a marketing tool in the establishment of your business. Particularly interesting to me is this article in Environmental Leader in which the editor of The ULS (Use Less Stuff) Report, Robert Lilienfeld,  talks about “Greenwashing: How to Avoid the Typical Marketing Traps.” I felt I had a limited ability to accurately evaluate the claims Pangea says make the company worthy of consideration as a “Green Business.” I later found that there was some information about its “Greenness” in the ABOUT page, but I still thought it would be ideal to have a dedicated page that lists the vision, the reality and practice and the goals of how and when the company is moving towards a higher standard or level of green. I also found some information in a article about the “level of Greenness” of Pangea Organics packaging…while considering other information relating to the company’s policies that I found on their website:

  1. It seems that the actual cosmetics are sourced from high quality organics that avoid the use of petrochemical based ingredients (from the ABOUT page): “Pangea Organics offers you our serious commitment to using beneficial, organic, raw ingredients, providing open-disclosure and transparency of ingredients and operating under responsible business practices that benefit people and planet. We carefully select the highest quality fatty acids, essential oils and botanical extracts that nature has to offer while avoiding ingredients that have been processed with petrochemicals.”
  2. In the packaging article the fact they use #2 plastic make me think: so what? Possibly cosmetics packaging still has not converted to #2? I know that for some reason yorgurt containers still are made only with #6 plastic. So then why not find a solution for all the #6 plastic waste created? Either that or the government should demand that they switch to #2. The point is that #2 plastic is widely available and commonly used. I don’t see how it is big deal to say that a company uses #2 plastic in their packaging. Maybe in the 1980s yes.
  3. Similarly there is a claim in packaging article that the plastic bottles use no paper labels, but it seems common practice to etch the print directly onto the plastic bottles in cosmetics and body care products. Possibly this was a technology that was previously limited to the larger, highly volume products and this is why it was deemed relevant to mention in the article.
  4. In the packaging article, they talk about Onysko’s contracting of IDEO – a well known and highly respected product design consulting company – to explore sustainable options. Onysko says in relation to this in the article, that he always uses “recycled materials but we wanted to explore another step towards sustainability by looking at where the packaging materials come from.” However, the article does not go into much detail. I know this article of course can only go into so much details, but I felt left hanging about what IDEO consulting experience really meant in relation to the company’s future green product offerings. What about what current materials and how they compare with alternatives in terms of the evaluation of the company as green or sustainable? What would the additional costs and challenges would be to consider greener alternatives? When could or would such a change would be implemented? These I feel are important things to consider in looking at considering a company green.
  5. The labels use a percentage of hemp fiber in their manufacture which I found interesting and possibly significant in terms of considering Pangea’s green status. Hemp is considered by some to be more sustainable than wood fibers because they grow faster and have a higher yield per acre of land.
  6. Pangea Naturals is the parent company of Pangea Organics – they recently converted over to 100 percent wind power to run their facility.
  7. They donate 10 percent of their profits to Women for Women International. I think this is significant and a good Corporate Social Responsibility policy for socially conscious green companies.
  8. A vision to develop the The Pangea Institute. Browsing Pangea Organics (cosmetics) website, I see he is still working to create “a mixed-use development housing “the Pangea Institute, the Pangea Organics manufacturing facility and community housing.” I have to note that despite my interest in finding our more information on this…that the page had several “click here for more” links that were not actually hyperlinked or “clickable”.

In terms of considering Pangea Organics overall evaluation as a Green Business, I suggest that they and similar ventures consider the work of Seventh Generation (read their most recent Corporate Sustainability Report online) in terms of really getting to the nitty-gritty of providing substantive and quantitative information to consumers – and if appropriate investors and other possible stakeholders – in terms of what it means to move a conventional business towards a more sustainable business model.

Regardless, I applaud his company’s continued efforts and particularly in relation to  what I view as a very rare effort to replicate the Arcosanti business model & vision of integrated living, while attempting to move his business in a more sustainable direction.

Green Business Development & Evaluation Resources:

  1. Sustainable/Green Business Toolkit: Learn how to evaluate and transform your business for future success.
  2. The Greenwashing Blog is a great resource to explain some of the more notable corporate mis-uses of the word Green and/or Green Business.
  3. Greenwashing: How to Avoid the Typical Marketing Traps does a really good job of listing key points in any effective, meaningful, authentic and compelling green business marketing strategy.
  4. Review of Seventh Generation (they got a 3 out of a possible 5) corporate practices outlines how the company is taking steps to become more ecologically responsible in its practices. The review also notes that Seventh Gen is not there yet. There are issues with the quality of some of their soap products and the use of conventional oil based products in diapers, feminine care products and automatic dish washer liquid.
  5. Green Audit Know-How – Explains how to do a green audit to evaluate a product, service, infrastructure, building or company.

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