Consumer perception of plastic has finally reached a tipping point. Years of campaigning has resulted in a widespread awareness of the strain that plastics put on the environment. In 2018, we saw this translate into a demand for change, which brands rushed to meet. From McDonald’s plastic straw ban to L’Oréal’s paper shampoo bottle, plastic-free initiatives hit the mainstream. Because of this surge in awareness, consumers were not only happy to pay more for these products, but actively looked for brands who could supply them.
2019 is going to be the year of CO2 reduction. Alarming reports are hitting the news – global carbon emissions reached a record high in 2018. Awareness is growing about the fact that high CO2 levels are accelerating global warming. Consumers are concerned with the permanent damage the industry is inflicting on our planet. They want businesses to be transparent about their carbon footprint.
There is a clear opportunity to increase profitability through sustainable business practice. The 2018 FESPA Print Census found that environmental investments are heavily influenced by customer expectations regarding sustainable manufacturing and materials. 76% of the PSPs (print service providers) surveyed say that customer demand for environmentally responsible products is shaping business strategy, with more than one in five stating that it is a major influence. By offering products and services with a low CO2 impact, forward-thinking businesses can strengthen their brand positioning while helping the planet.
Understanding CO2 emissions
Traditionally, when we think of CO2 emissions, we think of transport and engine fumes. But there is more to the story. According to IPCC, The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the transport sector contributed only 14% of global greenhouse gas emissions (CO2 accounts for 65% of these emissions). There are other big polluters, like industry (21%), agriculture, forestry and other land use (24%) and electricity and heat production (25%). In order to understand where CO2 pollution is coming from, we can’t simply single out one sector. We need to step back and consider the full picture, looking at a product’s entire life cycle, from cradle to grave.
Every product has a life cycle. In a life cycle assessment, the full scope of a product’s environmental impact is investigated. At every stage in this cycle, from sourcing the materials, to manufacturing, to transportation, through to reusing, recycling or disposing of the product, there is an opportunity to reduce CO2 emissions.
Choosing the right materials
Materials vary drastically in their carbon footprint. Even through different methods of production and transportation, materials which have similar properties and uses can have drastically different environmental impact. And then, there is the product life to consider. By using materials that have a longer product life, reusability and recyclability, companies can make sustainability gains and save money.
How can businesses identify sustainable materials?
- Look for eco certificates from reputable organisations, like the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) and the Carbon Trust Standard.
- Choose materials that minimise CO2-heavy transport.
- Use durable materials that can be reused and recycled.
A new study by HSBC shows a trend of businesses improving their profits through greener supply chains. It found that transparency is a key factor for more than a quarter (26%) of companies when seeking new suppliers, as consumers increasingly want to know where the products they buy come from, and how people, animals and the environment have been treated during production. This shows that industry is already moving to meet consumer demand.
Selling the green message
An international study by Unilever shows that a third of consumers prefer sustainable brands. 21% of consumers said they would actively choose brands if they made their sustainability credentials clearer on their packaging and in their marketing. This proves that brands can strengthen their reputation by marketing their sustainable practices to consumers. The FESPA Print Census found that 72% of PSPs have been able to invest in sustainability without increasing prices, which has preserved sales and maintained price competitiveness.
Consumers want businesses to be transparent about their products’ carbon footprint. Eco certificates can play a role here. But there is more scope for creativity – leading brands are now using innovative design and materials to drive the sustainability message home. This helps consumers make informed decisions, without compromising on attractive design.
Decreasing CO2 is a win-win
Consumer awareness of the problem of CO2 emissions is higher than ever. This is a unique opportunity for sustainable business practices to become wider-spread and more profitable. By transforming supply chains and communicating green credentials effectively, we can meet the growing demand for sustainable products. In doing so, we can change the way future consumers decide which brands they want to support.