2019-09 Tweet PTI Sustainable Design AdobeStock_247365230-1

Many companies, especially in consumer goods, have signed up to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation commitment to use 100% fully reusable, recyclable or compostable plastic packaging by 2025. Traditionally, sustainable packaging was left to the R&D department but has rapidly become a hot topic at every level – from sales (facing very demanding retailers) to marketing teams (challenged by their consumers) – up to the finance department (as packaging costs rise).

Commitments start as an external constraint, created at an industry level. But as companies realise they have to drive change internally, they need to develop a shared vision that can capture hearts and minds. A strong vision strikes a balance between being believable and making the team gulp! It should feel like an exhilarating, but achievable stretch. It usually evolves over multiple iterations.

We’ve identified five types of sustainability vision – for packaging and beyond. They provide a useful framework to consider what type of sustainability vision you’re aiming for.

They’re listed in order of magnitude of change they require – from adaptation to more radical transformation.

1. Quantitative targets

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A big numerical statement makes the impact more tangible. It can be around the financial investment in sustainability, the number of packs removed or replaced with sustainable alternatives. It is particularly relevant for large manufacturers (vs small, ethical brands).

What it means
Don’t forget ‘big numbers’ need to be handled with care. Soft drinks manufacturers may not want to shout about the quantity of plastic bottles they produce – even if they are fully recyclable.

2. Change of paradigm

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In some ways packaging is a by product for manufacturers and its disposal the responsibility of consumers and waste management companies. The circular economy has forced them to rethink its role.

What it means
Changing the mindset of manufacturers and consumers on the role of packaging and the end of life issues.

Likewise, Nestlé has turned their circular economy ambition into a very concrete target in countries with high leakage and low collection (eg. Asia). They employ a ‘One tonne in, one tonne out’ principle, working with local NGOs and the informal sector to increase packaging collection.

3. Tangible outcomes

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For companies producing a lot of plastic packaging, their products are directly associated with the images of beaches and oceans littered with waste. Their vision should address this very tangible issue.

What it means
Consumers are now aware that recycling and collection needs to be sorted and that plastic won’t disappear overnight. But these targets require external partnerships that are often hard to put in place at a global level.

Beyond packaging – a vision that encompasses the entire company’s sustainability transformation. It is particularly important to go beyond the current plastic obsession and explain what positive changes companies can support vs focusing on limiting the damage.

4. Restorative ambition

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IKEA’s ambition is to reduce more greenhouse gas emissions than the entire IKEA value chain emits. This goes far beyond carbon or climate-neutral that can be achieved through carbon offset credits.

5. Purpose before profit

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Sustainability has pushed Boards and CEOs to create new business practices that balance profit requested by shareholders with people and the planet. For some, their business purpose has become very similar to a non-profit organisation. While others remain profit-driven companies, but with totally different ways of operating.

What it means
Since becoming a B-Corp, Patagonia is legally required to consider the impact of their decisions regarding their workers, customers, suppliers, community, and the environment. Its CEO, Rose Marcario, has turned Patagonia into an ‘activist’ brand to drive positive social and environmental changes.