Net zero is positive for the planet, people, and profits

Can the green premium be transformed into a green discount for packaging?

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Bühler's Vortex A GlowVision
Bühler's Vortex A GlowVision optical sorting solution for PET recyclers is now available worldwide. Photo Bühler

As Jayant Sinha wrote in the 31 August edition of the Business Standard, market-driven approaches to net zero emissions will be good for India. Sinha wrote, “Most Indians worry that decarbonization will impede the country’s development. They believe that coal-based energy cannot be replaced by solar, electric cars are too expensive, and people will not switch from animal to plant proteins. Simply put, they consider low-carbon emissions (green) technologies to be worse than high-carbon, fossil-fuel based (brown) technologies.” One could add that the packaging industry views recyclable packaging and the cost of sorting and recycling in the same negative way. 

However, Sinha goes on to say, “But what if this is wrong? If green technologies are more cost-effective than brown technologies, then development pathways that take us to net zero emissions will be good for India. Better still, market-driven approaches will power these pathways. Net zero will be net positive for profits, people, and the planet.”

Sinha cogently argues that India’s net zero pathways have previously been looked at from the perspective of global warming by 1.5 degrees C but that current policies are likely to lead to a two to three degrees centigrade rise in global mean temperatures by 2100. This level could lead to Indian GDP declining by a further 10 to 20%, in addition to air pollution, which is already killing anywhere from one to two million Indians annually. He says, “While the world is pursuing net zero emissions by 2050, India’s fossil-fuel dependent economy is likely to cross 7 billion tons of carbon-equivalent emissions by 2050.”

Sinha follows this with the interesting argument that instead of the green premium of environment-friendly technologies, “Innovative Indian businesses have transformed the green premium into a green discount. Round-the-clock solar power is now being delivered at prices 20-30% cheaper than coal-fired baseload thermal power plants. More than 90% of auto-rickshaws being sold in India are now all-electric. Not only is it much cheaper to operate these electric rickshaws, but they also cost less than fossil fuel-based rickshaws. Meanwhile, all-electric fleets using Indian electric vehicles (EVs) are providing much cheaper rides to commuters than diesel and petrol cabs. India’s top business groups are working with leading technologists around the world to drive the cost of green hydrogen down to a dollar per kg. Sugarcane mills are being repurposed to produce ethanol that will be mixed with imported fossil fuels to bring down prices. Soy milk, made from locally grown soybeans, is now cheaper than dairy milk.”

Sinha suggests that the adoption of cost-effective green tech accelerated by government support will lead to massive technology shifts across the Indian economy. To some, he may seem overly optimistic when he says green technologies are indisputably more cost-effective than brown technologies now and his hope that the G7 countries should support the US$ 50 to 100 billion investment needed annually with appropriate financing mechanisms for our net zero investment. 

Could a market-driven approach to product packaging, including flexible materials and plastics, create a system of packaging with a green discount? For a start, one could factor in the employment, net zero, and cleaner environment benefits of an organized solid waste collection, sorting to appropriate recycling streams, and recycling industry. If the cost of waste collection, sorting, and landfills are counted, our current packaging is already at a premium and more expensive than green packaging. 

Thus, the task for the Indian flexible film and packaging industry and its suppliers at both the Elite Conference in Mumbai and at the K event in Dusseldorf is to examine the possibilities of coming up with innovations to transform the green premium of recyclable and biodegradable packaging to a green discount through innovations in materials, processes, and cultural practices. 

The impact, resilience, and growth of responsible packaging in a wide region are daily chronicled by Packaging South Asia.

A multi-channel B2B publication and digital platform such as Packaging South Asia is always aware of the prospect of new beginnings and renewal. Its 16-year-old print monthly, based in New Delhi, India has demonstrated its commitment to progress and growth. The Indian and Asian packaging industries have shown resilience in the face of ongoing challenges over the past three years.

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The capacity for flexible film manufacturing in India increased by 33% over the past three years. With orders in place, we expect another 33% capacity addition from 2023 to 2025. Capacities in monocartons, corrugation, aseptic liquid packaging, and labels have grown similarly. The numbers are positive for most of the economies in the region – our platform increasingly reaches and influences these.

Even given the disruptions of supply chains, raw material prices, and the challenge of responsible and sustainable packaging, packaging in all its creative forms and purposes has significant headroom to grow in India and Asia. Our context and coverage engulf the entire packaging supply chain – from concept to shelf and further – to waste collection and recycling. We target brand owners, product managers, raw material suppliers, packaging designers and converters, and recyclers.

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– Naresh Khanna

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Editor of Indian Printer and Publisher since 1979 and Packaging South Asia since 2007. Trained as an offset printer and IBM 360 computer programmer. Active in the movement to implement Indian scripts for computer-aided typesetting. Worked as a consultant and trainer to the Indian print and newspaper industry. Visiting faculty of IDC at IIT Powai in the 1990s. Also founder of IPP Services, Training and Research and has worked as its principal industry researcher since 1999. Author of book: Miracle of Indian Democracy.

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