Virtual attendees at the first session of Quad’s 5th Annual Sustainability Symposium on October 7 heard some good news — when it comes to sustainability, we’re all in this together. And for all the uncertainty, 2020 is a year brands are making positive change through Corporate Social Responsibility.
This first virtual session of the Sustainability Symposium focused on industry-changing work. Speakers shared their stories on ways brands are impacting and inspiring us to do more. Catch the first session on demand here, and register for the upcoming Sustainability Symposium second virtual session October 14.
Annie’s: Making sustainability the brand story
Patrick Keenan is a packaging engineer for Annie’s organic foods, a popular General Mills brand. He shared what the Annie’s brand learned while making improvements to polybags.
Talk about sustainability in your brand story
Annie’s Organic Friends Bunnies cereal uses a liner that’s 30% recycled material, made from milk and juice bottles. The back of the box is devoted entirely to the recycling story, building more trust with consumers.
Greenwashing a brand is never acceptable. Change has to be rooted in science that holds up over time to make a real difference. Brands must commit to the due diligence of finding the right sustainable solution, getting buy-in from stakeholders, sourcing the right materials, adjusting manufacturing processes, and securing government approval for food safety. Remember, just because a brand is passionate about sustainability doesn’t mean change will happen quickly.
Focus on material suppliers and convertors
Internal cross-functional teams and partners must align across the supply chain. Brands should lead the conversation, communicating goals, controlling costs, keeping marketing messages consistent, outlining product specifications, ensuring quality and helping everyone understand the big picture. The north star is your consumer — brands have to run the gamut to make sure they deliver on their expectations.
Sustainable Packaging Coalition: Building a better polybag system
SPC GreenBlue’s Associate Director Adam Gendell advocates for finding new and improved methods for creating sustainable packaging. He focused on asking tough questions to break down assumptions about moving products through the supply chain.
Know when materials are necessary
Patagonia tested how products would hold up when shipped without polybags. The bad news—one-third of garments were damaged to the point that they couldn’t be sold. The good news—almost 70% were good enough to sell. The brand quickly learned which materials were most durable and which colors were less affected.
The goal in sustainability is to always use less material to do more. Virgin plastic is cheapest, but alternatives should be considered when it makes sense. If conventional plastic materials are the best option, brand owners should work with suppliers to source better, smarter polybag shapes and sizes to better fit products for less waste. Patagonia also learned that folding garments differently cuts material needs by one-third.
Reconsider recovery systems
The material’s end-of-life decision is typically up to the consumer. Nike’s retail stores collect polybags before they reach consumers, then recycle to manufacture bags for purchases. Smaller retailers can pool their polybags to make pickup worthwhile for third-party recyclers. Even giant retail competitors Target, Walmart and CVS have teamed up.
Fashion for Good: Building sustainable solutions at scale
Kathleen Rademan, Director of Fashion for Good’s Innovation Platform, helps connect disruptive sustainability initiatives with finance and partners to bring new ideas to a wider audience.
Start small and speak their language
Most corporate leaders are practical and balk at risking profit on initiatives that focus on planet or people. Use quantitative research and goals instead of emotional creative to get buy-in from finance-minded executives. Pilot projects that deliver measurable results to build confidence. Big change can come from incremental steps.
Neutral parties can effectively manage projects that bring brands together. True collaboration works best in the strategic, pre-competitive phase of implementation. A documented agreement up front can be used to outline common goals. This acts as a roadmap for success, so stakeholders stay focused. One designated person or entity should own and lead shared initiatives.
Make a realistic closed-loop system
- Low Density Polyethylene will be around for years. We should view it as a valuable resource, with these opportunities for improvement:
- Recycling current LDPE with a clean reusable waste stream
- Achieving innovative collection systems
- Focusing on recycling innovation within current processes
Through the entire system, we need to continue to ask what’s possible and how can we better close the loop.
Watch the first session of Quad Sustainability Symposium here.