Wildlife Artists was founded in 1974 by Caroline Ward’s parents after her father travelled to Africa and “fell in love with both the land and its wildlife.” That trip was inspirational and set in motion an urgency within her father to conserve it. “My parents founded Wildlife Artists with a simple belief — realistic wildlife products will endear people to the natural world and inspire them to help protect it,” Ward said.
“Today, my brother and I have continued our parent’s conservation quest by developing authentic, high-quality wildlife products that we believe will create stewards for the environment,” Ward shared. “We’ve also expanded the scope of our efforts to include in-the-field conservation work, anti-poaching advocacy, employment and empowerment initiatives, and by serving as industry-leaders in plastic reduction. Conservation and sustainability are now not only at the core of our products, but every action we take.”
Ward answered museums&MORE’s questions and delved deeper into Wildlife Artists’ plastic-conscious motivation and offered advice on how companies may reduce plastic use and become more eco-friendly.
What is the motivation behind your plastic-conscious product offerings?
The stakes for our planet and its wildlife have never been higher. In only six decades, the mass production of plastic has created more than 7 billion tons of waste. Alarmingly, only 9% of that plastic waste has been recycled.
That means more than 5 billion tons of bags, bottles and other single-use plastics have rapidly accumulated in landfills that can’t handle the sheer amount of waste. Much of this plastic ends up flowing into the ocean where it suffocates, starves and drowns marine life. Scientists predict that by 2050, our seas could contain more plastic waste than fish. Eliminating plastic is critical to conservation, and we’re doing it everywhere we can.
How did the development and production of Eco Pals come about?
Alarmed by the sheer scope of the plastic pollution problem, we decided to take a leadership role in our industry and reduce our use of plastics. We began by taking a hard look at every part of our existing plush lines — from production to fulfillment — to determine where plastic could be eliminated, replaced or recycled.
In 2012, we removed all unnecessary plastics, and by 2014, we had eliminated all plastic whiskers and beans. At that time, there were no alternatives for the remaining plastic that didn’t dramatically increase pricing, and it’s always been our goal to create products that are both environmentally-friendly and price-competitive. And, it was a hard sell with our factories and their suppliers to disrupt production and operations to incorporate sustainable components and raw materials into their processes.
But we kept looking for opportunities to eliminate, replace or recycle plastic from our plush and its production. It took time, but by 2018, we developed Eco Pals, the industry’s first holistically plastic-conscious plush line and significantly reduced plastic across all products and practices.
What have been some of the challenges moving to a plastic-free approach?
The initial challenges were, and still are, the costs and availability of sustainable components, as well as convincing factories to disrupt their production lines for our sustainable initiatives. While we could have put a more sustainable plush out a few years ago, the cost would have been high and that product would have sat on the shelves, defeating the purpose of putting out an eco-friendly plush alternative. Our ultimate goal is to transform the plush industry both in the product and at the manufacturing level.
What have been some of the positives in changing how you manufacture an item without plastic?
The reception! Being a conservation company, we knew the damage of plastics, and we knew our conservation-minded clients would as well. But we did not expect the immediate excitement and reception of our plastic elimination initiatives and plastic-conscious products.
How does a company reduce plastic from their product?
Eliminate, replace or recycle — and not just in the product, but holistically from production to packing to in-store displays. Identify the plastic AND components that use plastic as a raw material and ask whether or not that element is necessary (beans, whiskers, static window stickers) are easily replaceable with an alternative (eyes, noses, taggers, foam core, gator board). And if the component is necessary and there is no non-plastic alternative, find out if there is a version made from recycled plastic.
What are your tips to others who are trying to be more eco-friendly, or even plastic-free themselves?
Stay informed and educated on plastics and sustainability. Be aware of greenwashing: when a company markets themselves or a brand as environmentally-friendly but is not actually environmentally-friendly. Examples of this include claiming a product that uses sequins or glitter as “eco” (sequins and glitter are harmful micro-plastics) and that biodegradable plastic is “eco.” There is no ridding the earth of the toxins from plastics … at least not yet.