Across the world and in diverse application segments, we are seeing a dramatic change with regards to the humble label. The labels that consumers are seeing would have gone through many hours of design, development and production before landing on the shelves.
In the new Internet of Things age, the label is no longer merely an aesthetic resource or just a vehicle for information and instruction. The label is also a resource for supply chain management and security.
Packaging of food, beverage and ingredients, too, have taken on important roles to help address consumers’ concerns of food safety from farm to fork. Importantly, both labels and packaging are now also responsible for ensuring that the world’s resources remain available for everyone for generations to come.
However, packaging is contributing to waste generated worldwide. In the Asia Pacific region, it is estimated to constitute about 25-30 percent of waste generated. Governments and consumers are already concerned, and businesses should rightly be too.
These days, topics such as waste to energy, carbon emissions, deforestation, water quality and accessibility are making headlines and gaining attention of brand owners through to consumers. In conversations with customers across different industries, it is common to find that they have begun making investments in renewable energy and materials, recycling, better working conditions and equality.
Small Steps For Businesses
Take for instance, a Spanish winemaker, Torres, whose corporate vision is ‘The more we care for the earth, the better our wine’. The Torres family’s wine-growing method uses FSCcertified materials for their wine labels. FSC stands for Forest Stewardship Council and the certification provides consumers the assurance that the paper material used for the company’s labels is made from wood from responsible sources.
Torres has committed itself to reducing CO2 emissions by 30 percent per bottle by the year 2020, compared with 2008, from the vineyard to final transport. Moving their labels to FSC-certified paper material is just the start of their longer-term plan; their wine-growing philosophy begins with respecting the environment.
Businesses who embrace sustainability as a strategy are able to attract buyers’ attention and grow thriving businesses. One example is Unilever who made it public a number of years ago that they will source 75 percent of the paper and board for their packaging from certified, sustainably managed forests or from recycled material by 2015, and achieve 100 percent by 2020.
With such purpose-driven brands, sustainability principles are woven into the core of operations for companies like these.
Changing What We Do Every Day
As previously discussed, change for the better is possible. Indeed, sustainability can be integrated into every level in the label value chain—from procuring materials, manufacturing, management of by-products and the end of life to the label.
By looking across at the supply chain, businesses know that it cannot be their sole responsibility to make the change—they need the support and involvement of their partners and various stakeholders. Asian food and beverage companies can take a step towards sustainability by involving their supply chain partners.
In Europe, four companies—Coca-Cola European Partners Plc (CCEP), Viridor Waste Management Limited, Avery Dennison Materials Europe B.V. and Polymer Extrusion Technologies (UK) Limited—worked together to recycle 70 tonnes of PET liner waste in 2016.
CCEP started producing Smartwater for the UK in 2015. It filled around 50 million bottles with labels on a transparent plastic (PET) liner. That, unfortunately, generated over 40 tonnes of waste and cost CCEP £8,500 (US$10,900) in handling and disposal costs.
A better solution that would benefit the environment was then undertaken and involved CCEP’s supply chain partners, such as PET liner provider Avery Dennison, plastics processor PET UK, and recycling partner Viridor.
The PET from the liners was shredded and extruded into granulate which underwent a special treatment before being used for the production of new PET thermoformable sheets.
These sheets are a raw material which can be used in the production of recycled PET (rPET) resin. This resin is a feedstock for the production of items such as PET staple fibre, strapping or thermoformable sheets, which can be used for the production of trays.
According to Joe Franses, director of Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability at Coca-Cola European Partners, the company is clear that its economy needed to evolve from the old ‘take-make-dispose’ model to the new and more circular, longer-term way of thinking, which is why they chose to work with their partners in this way.
Sustainability Movement As One
As we have discussed above, steps towards sustainability can be small (with just a label change) or large (through recycling efforts across different business and industries). Just where can we start on the sustainability journey?
One idea is to have a sustainability program based on ‘The Natural Step Principles’: do not take from the earth at a rate faster than it can be replenished; do not create things at a rate faster than it can return to the earth; do not destroy the earth or parts of it at a rate faster than it can regrow; and preserve the ability for people to fulfil their human rights.
Translated into commercial operations, these principles can be used to make the right decisions—whether in choosing suppliers, what innovations to develop and what investments to undertake. Across different business operations, we can weave sustainability principles into our daily work life.
Together, let’s all collaborate for the future. Let us actively develop new product solutions and services within the industry and across supply chains to make a positive impact on the environment.