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Ollie Druttman
| 21ST APR 2023

Zeno Thinks: What Big Brands Can Learn From Poppies Going Plastic-Free

If a cash-strapped charity like the Royal British Legion can find the will and resources to switch to paper poppies, ANY company can take steps to reduce its impact on the environment. It’s a matter of desire and starting small.



Ahead of World Earth Day this weekend, the Royal British Legion has announced that from now on it will make its poppies entirely from paper, cutting carbon emissions by 40%.

 This is a smart move. They’ve shown that switching to a more sustainable product doesn’t have to break the bank, creates positive reputational buzz and – fundamentally – is the right thing to do. Partnering with UCL’s Department of Chemical Engineering was progressive and innovative – and the blanket news coverage has been overwhelmingly positive.



And kudos to the comms team. When you work in the PR department for the Royal British Legion (shout out to those of us involved in the Two Minute Silence video single campaign in 2010), news hooks that don’t revolve around Remembrance Sunday are few and far between. So launching this story four days before World Earth Day was a shrewd move, giving the brand a massive coverage boost in its ‘off-season’, five months on from the 11th November spike.



So what’s the lesson here? Start somewhere. Anywhere. The Royal British Legion, in manufacturing and distributing over three million poppies a year, has an impact environment. Reducing that environmental impact by 40% is a considerable achievement – and no doubt leaves room for improvement going forward.

 Start small. If you’re small business, do a plastics audit. If you’re a large business, a more rigorous process to evaluate ESG performance might be warranted. Zeno’s ESG Pathway process provides just that and comes with a high-level strategic roadmap with near and long-term business and communications recommendations.

And let’s not forget the growing evidence that positive ESG outcomes are a trait of successful companies – and that sustainability measures correlate with better financial performance, as Bain & Co’s latest research shows.



At Zeno London, we haven’t quite committed to getting rid of air-con and heating, nor have we dumped our printers. But this week we’re doing a seven-day plastics challenge. There’s a bingo card of actions ranging from using a reusable bag for groceries to bringing in lunch in your own food containers. As an agency, we’re at the start of our sustainability journey and small steps like the seven-day plastics challenge start to instil positive behavioural change that make a difference.

This is the latest step in an ongoing process of incremental improvement, following on from the “22 for ‘22” goals Zeno London set when moving to our new office last year. From reducing water consumption to stopping single-use sachets and milk cartons in the office, we are striving to become a better, more sustainable and more ethical business now and in the future.

 At this point, it’s only appropriate to insert an inspirational quote about taking small steps to achieve great things… I enjoyed this Chinese proverb: “The man who removes a mountain begins by carrying away small stones.”