When it comes to going green, consumer products have led the movement in the kids industry. Toycos got the ball rolling early on being more environmentally friendly, with major players like Hasbro announcing initiatives as early as 2010.
And while those first programs focused on reducing the amount of paper and plastic used in packaging, more recently licensees and manufacturers are turning their attention to baking in an eco-friendly ethos into the very DNA of their brands.
Nickelodeon is taking this tack with its consumer products strategy for YouTube star Isabella de La Torre (known as La Bala).
Cristian Cabero, Nick’s SVP of consumer products and location-based experiences, says his team took inspiration from the ways in which de La Torre works green products into her everyday life when they began developing the CP range.
For example, she travels with a reusable cup to avoid single-use plastics, so Nickelodeon is aiming to create products that are similarly sustainable, as well as reducing the amount of packaging used for the entire line. These efforts aren’t designed to stand out—being eco-friendly should now be assumed and something La Torre’s fans expect from their purchases.
In fact, a 2018 study from research firm GreenMatch found that 72% of Gen Z consumers would spend more money on a service if it was sustainably produced, and those same respondents also reported a strong preference for switching to brands with sustainable initiatives. The study also found kids are willing to boycott companies that do not align with their values. And these stats came before millions of people (Gen Zers among them) protested for climate change solutions in September last year. What’s more, a 2019 report from Research and Markets found kids have a direct spending power of as much as US$143 billion, and an indirect spending power of US$600 billion. That’s a lot of reasons to go green.
Initial categories for La Bala’s consumer products program will include apparel, accessories, publishing and back-to-school, with the first items scheduled to hit shelves in Mexico this summer. By the end of the year, Nickelodeon plans to expand throughout LatAm and launch additional categories like bedding and electronic accessories.
De La Torre first learned about environmental issues and sustainability through social media, she says. “It’s unbelievable how many things are happening because of climate change, and people think it’s normal. We have to work now, and I’ve been using my voice to spread awareness.”
But de La Torre’s entire life doesn’t revolve around environmental efforts. She’s like most teenagers, which means her time is split between a number of interests.
“There are a lot of things she’s passionate about,” says Tatiana Rodriguez, Nickelodeon’s SVP of programming and creative strategy. “She also loves music and art, so we’re working to incorporate all of those things into the products [with equal importance.]”
The biggest obstacle, Cabera says, is waiting for the technology behind manufacturing processes to catch up to the company’s (and de La Torre’s) aspirations. “There are limitations,” he says. “We must deliver a good-quality product at a price that is accessible to the consumer.”
Even with tech enabling more eco-friendly products, this level of environmental integration isn’t easily achievable for every toyco. For those who aren’t yet ready to go fully green with a new range, there are other options.
New Zealand-based company Zuru, for example, is making incremental changes to its Bunch O Balloons (pictured) brand after being criticized for generating plastic waste. The product features balloons with self-sealing stems that allow kids to quickly and easily fill up—you guessed it—a bunch of balloons at once.
“The balloon pieces aren’t able to be put in all curbside recycling because they’re latex,” says Zuru’s global marketing director, Renee Lee. “We looked at how we could mitigate the impact we’re having, and that’s where the idea came about to partner with TerraCycle.”
The New Jersey-based company allows consumers to dispose of their Bunch O Balloons stems, bags and balloon pieces by mailing them in to be recycled. The packaging materials, for example, are melted into hard plastic that can be remolded into new products. The Zuru team is also aiming to change to 100% certified recycled materials in 2021.
And though a brand like Bunch O Balloons may not easily lend itself to environmental efforts, sustainability can become a founding pillar of new properties. Cuddles the Sloth, an upcoming addition to Zuru’s portfolio, is a prime example.
Instead of hard mechanics, the interactive pet features pressurized air flowing through tubes to create hundreds of movements including hand-holding, singing and sneezing. Zuru engineered the tech in house, and—besides a small battery pack—the product is truly plush, free of many of the non-recyclable materials traditionally associated with interactive pets.
Cuddles has been in the works for five years, and Lee says that in 2019 as the team was aligning its strategy for the launch, wildfires were raging across the Amazon rainforest.
Because sloths live in rainforests in Central and South America, Zuru partnered with One Tree Planted to include codes in the packaging that will allow kids to go online and plant a tree in the rainforest. (It costs Zuru just US$1 for the organization to plant a new tree.)
“It wasn’t just about giving money back to plant these trees,” Lee says. “It was about engaging the children who purchase this toy in the message.”