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

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

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 Covid-19 pandemic led to the country-wide lockdown on 25 March 2020. It will be two years tomorrow as I write this. What have we learned in this time? Maybe the meaning of resilience since small companies like us have had to rely on our resources and the forbearance of our employees as we have struggled to produce our trade platforms.

The print and packaging industries have been fortunate, although the commercial printing industry is still to recover. We have learned more about the digital transformation that affects commercial printing and packaging. Ultimately digital will help print grow in a country where we are still far behind in our paper and print consumption and where digital is a leapfrog technology that will only increase the demand for print in the foreseeable future.

Web analytics show that we now have readership in North America and Europe amongst the 90 countries where our five platforms reach. Our traffic which more than doubled in 2020, has at times gone up by another 50% in 2021. And advertising which had fallen to pieces in 2020 and 2021, has started its return since January 2022.

As the economy approaches real growth with unevenness and shortages a given, we are looking forward to the PrintPack India exhibition in Greater Noida. We are again appointed to produce the Show Daily on all five days of the show from 26 to 30 May 2022.

It is the right time to support our high-impact reporting and authoritative and technical information with some of the best correspondents in the industry. Readers can power Packaging South Asia’s balanced industry journalism and help sustain us by subscribing.

– 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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