Go to a packaging or any other trade show, and see the
plethora of ‘sustainable’ claims displayed on stands.
The initiative to reduce consumption of virgin raw materials is well-intentioned. Consumers, aided by a gathering momentum around circular product design, have begun to turn the tide, and a new awareness of value beyond the product now takes account of the huge cost that environmental myopia has had.
But changing to a recycled material to do the same job as the virgin one doesn’t produce less waste. A new, ‘sustainable’ product might only be a bit less damaging, or slightly different quality, than it used to be. ‘Sustainable’ doesn’t always mean better.
Sustainable doesn’t always mean better
Newly recycled and recyclable waste may be re-processable a finite number of times, and new industries will spring up around the new circular material flows. Good news.
However, we’re missing a point. While industry peers applaud alternative product developments and re-utilise a material type a few more times than we used to, we’re still making as much product; as many pieces of packaging; as many pieces of plastic to collect and reprocess; as much material that won’t find its way into the recycling stream.
We understand. Of course, businesses are trying to adapt to market demand and stay in business. But the changes being initiated across markets take time, irrespective of how long the IPCC says we have left to avoid irreversible environmental damage.
Consumers take responsibility
The onus now falls to consumers to take responsibility and tell producers what they will accept. As the saying goes – stop buying crap and they’ll stop making crap. As long as shoppers keep buying processed foods packed in a modified atmosphere, and keep eating products that travel too many miles, there’ll be someone to meet that need.
Consumers need help in this regard. A little less convenience and a little more bias towards home-grown, seasonal foods will reduce the need for clever packaging. A bit more availability of these options in more places will catch the eye and help a broader uptake.
Casualties of business
If this kind of behaviour catches on, and products are priced at their true value rather than at an artificial level made possible by industrial efficiency, inevitably some packaging producers may go out of business. Sorry but there it. These things happen.
Less demand will mean less supply and some unwelcome surprises. The myopia I mentioned earlier has already become a by-product of not looking far enough ahead or not devising a survival strategy that we call ‘innovation’. As James Clear says in his book, Atomic Habits, “we’d rather be wrong with others than right by ourselves.”
You don’t have to be the same as everyone else, and change starts with a phone call. To have a chat, please book some time in the room44 diary. It won’t cost you anything and it might change your ideas about surviving in a changing market.
Future thinking. Future-proofing. It’s what we do.