The Lifecycle Cost of Disney Products

There are many things that go into what makes something “green”.  When deciding which of a number of items to buy, like shirts for example, someone who is trying to be eco-conscious ought to look at the entire life cycle cost of the goods involved. This can be very difficult for the consumer to do unless the manufacturer provides the information.

Toddler and Disney plush doll.  Disney is developing product footprint baselines for plush dolls.
Disney Plush is one of the products
for which Disney is developing a
product footprint baseline 

The “Life Cycle Cost of Goods” is where you take into account everything that goes into a product such as the materials, how they are sourced, the costs of manufacturing, the transportation costs of getting it to market and to the end user and the eventual disposal at the end of the product’s life. Environmentally conscious companies try to be mindful of their products life cycle costs and minimize them.  This is not as simple as one might think, it is particularly difficult to gather this information unless you have complete control over the entire process, from the acquisition of the source materials to the final disposal. For consumer products it is particularly hard to assess this because the company has little to no control over the use, lifespan and disposal of the product.  However, some consideration can be taken as to whether the product is designed as a one-time-use product or a durable good and whether it is designed to be disassembled and recycling. 

This is a difficult area for us as consumers to find information or decide what is the “best” product to buy.   We’ve alluded to this dilemma before, such as in our discussion of which is better,  disposable or reusable dishes.   Recently I was in Denver and saw buildings that were “sustainable” but had new wood used as decorative trim.  This didn’t sound sustainable to me, but then I found out that they had a huge pine-beetle problem in the Denver area which had killed a lot of trees. The wood that I saw on the buildings was actually killed by the beetle, and needed to be removed because there were too many dead trees in a concentrated area causing a fire risk. In this case, using local grown fresh lumber as decorative trim made environmental sense.

Girl wearing Disney princess long sleeved t-shirt
100% Organic Cotton Long-Sleeve T

Disney has just begun to look at this area of corporate responsibility.  As they have a huge, almost unimaginably huge, number of products that are made for them or sold with Disney licenses, this is no easy task. “In 2011, we had approximately 25,000 facilities in 100 countries that were permitted to produce Disney-branded products

In Disney’s Citizenship Targets (a large pdf file), they have stated that one of their long term goals is to “reduce the emissions and waste associated with the manufacture, transport, use and disposal of Disney products.”   With millions of products this is an ambitious goals, so they have divided it into manageable steps.

In their first step they had all their major strategic suppliers complete an “Environmental Responsibility Index survey”  which refers to a set of questions that will help Disney Corporate determine next steps.  Plush dolls, apparel, accessories and toys account for a large portion of Disney’s products and therefore those are the areas in which they are focusing first.  They have begun work with these suppliers to improve their environmental footprint.   This statement is fairly vague,  but they go into more detail around their treatment of books and magazines and apparel.

As of 2010, all books and magazines printed in North American are using either recylcled content, certified sustainable origin or are of “known source origin.”   This is a target that sounds good on the surface, but frankly, I think they can do a lot better.  I’d like to see all of their paper products be either recycled content or from certified forests.  “known source origin” is not very “green” in my mind because it simply means that they know the timber was not illegally harvested.   There is plenty of legal timber harvesting in North Amercian is that is not so good for the environment.

Cinderella t-shirt from The Disney Store
$12.50 or 2 for $20 as of July 2012

However, in another area of Disney merchandise, I’m very pleased.   As of 2011 all graphic t-shirts and baby apparel sold by The Disney Store are made from 100% organic cotton.  When you buy organic food, it is usually because you are concerned about what you are consuming.  You might then ask “Why buy organic cotton clothing?”   Organic clothing is some about having pesticides and chemicals near your body, but in my mind, its more about the planet.  It’s about not having chemicals washing into our waterways and poisoning the animals around us. It’s also about the people that work on the farms, and not exposing them to these chemicals day in and day out.  Buying goods made from organic cotton is about caring for others and the planet. The Disney Store has gone a step further than just transitioning to 100% organic cotton, they have begun a guest education program letting people know why this is important.

This doesn’t mean that their prices are skyrocketing, in fact, they look just about the same to me.  Girls t-shirts are $12.50 each or 2 for $20 right now on The Disney Store website.  They have also implemented a program so that you can track the manufacturing process that your t-shirt went through.

  • 100% organic cotton certified under the USDA’s National Organic Program
  • Each Tee includes a label with a tracking number that can be used to trace the making of the Tee on 
label from Disney 100% organic t-shirt
Label from Ellie’s shirt

TrackMyT is the MOST FASCINATING thing I’ve clicked on in ages.  If you don’t have a number for a particular shirt, you can click on “Track a random T”   and it is amazing.  You can learn about the farm, the farmers, see their certifications, see how the cotton is spun, the material weaved, there are profiles of workers throughout.  This is the best example of transparency in product tracking I have ever seen.

Now, don’t get me wrong,  not all their shirts are organic and you can’t track all of them,  but if this is the direction they are headed, I applaud them!

They are also looking to expand their use of organic cotton to other apparel lines as well.  I’d love to see this expand into their resorts to their sheets and towels.  Giving people the opportunity to experience organic cotton sheets and towels during their vacation may convince them to buy it the next time they are in the market.

Product Footprint: Our long-term goal is to minimize our product footprint. In 2010, Disney came together as a company to develop some common approaches and targets around this goal. Our company-wide targets are focused on two areas in particular: the sourcing of raw materials, especially as it relates to sustainable paper use, and holding our manufacturing suppliers to a higher standard of environmental responsibility. In fiscal year 2011, strategic suppliers of key Disney product lines completed an Environmental Responsibility Index survey that will serve as a baseline for measuring future improvement. In 2011, Disney also identified apparel, accessories, plush, and toys as key product lines that will be measured for improvement.
From: Disney Citizenship Targets 20112 (download PDF)

As an environmentalist, I generally try to avoid buying lots of unnecessary stuff.  However,  with three children, there is a lot of necessary stuff to buy.  If in the future, I can trust that Disney production takes life cycle costs into account, then I’m going to be more likely to buy my child the Disney-themed lunchbox than the generic one and I’ll consider the Disney pajamas before the Nickelodeon ones.

This is not an area that Disney has been very vocal about in the past,  but I will try to keep an eye on it and provide information to our readers.  I’ve always been a Disney fan and it would be very nice to feel that I can continue to be a fan, without having to be guilty about my purchases or choices.

Happy Greening!

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