Earth Day – The positive effects of Covid-19 calls for retail and its packaging to cut carbon

A new wave of eco-friendly consumers driving forward carbon-cutting solutions to retail for the post-COVID era

Earth Day

The coronavirus has hit retail hard. Footfall has all but been eradicated on our high streets and government appeals have urged consumers to only purchase essential items. Physical stores have been threatened like never before and ecommerce has faced challenges of its own with disruptions to supply chains and restraints on key workers and distribution services. Despite the world have been forced into remote working in these unprecedented times, however, we have seen positive outcomes for our environment and in some ways even for our businesses. Estimated to reduce carbon emissions by 2.5 billion tonnes this year, zero-commuting alongside the decline in office energy consumption has not only naturally ensured we go greener but has also benefited our back pockets.

Aggregate consumption is also slowing down and more of us are recognising the importance of reusing or repurposing the things we purchase in order to make the most of our money and extend the lifespan of our goods.

The result? A fruitful new wave of eco-friendly consumers driving forward carbon-cutting solutions to retail for the post-COVID era.

And, with the effects of climate change on everyone’s minds, Robert Lockyer, owner of luxury packaging provider Delta Global, warns that world leaders may be encouraged to enforce sustainable initiatives such as standardising some remote working and even legislating waste and carbon control.

Therefore, it is essential that retailers rethink their carbon footprint with urgency and Robert offers his advice on how retail can act now.

Assess your brand’s position

Brands who sit largely under the bricks-and-mortar banner may be under threat of collapse. Without a steady stream of online customers you will be lucky to survive the storm.

Home in your key values and project them via your messaging, be it your tone of voice, your products quality and colour, the packaging it comes in or the partnerships you’ve created.

While Barbour have turned their hand to creating scrubs and gowns for NHS workers, they have not lost their trademark sense of style with Barbour cuffs.

For us, it is still functionality, reusability and creativity that are a must and while we are a packaging provider, ironically, our mission is a ‘reduction’ in unnecessary, inefficient and badly utilised packaging.

Our triangular delta symbol represents forward thinking and drive for change – environmentally and ethically – plus it marks our three points of seamless functionality between design, development and distribution.

Question, what it is that you represent? If you aim to be sustainable in your product, this needs to be reflected in the production process – if it isn’t you risk your reputation and ultimately sales.

Leave waste behind

Shoe retailer New Balance came up trumps with initiatives to save on waste and cutting carbon, when they utilised already manufactured materials that were readily available such as laces to make masks for hospital workers.

Shifting their priorities and services in such a way is not only helping combat the global shortage of PPE equipment but is sticking closely to the design of their sneakers, emulating the brand’s signature look to the thousands of NHS staff wearing them and the wider audience from media and social coverage.

Less waste means less carbon is emitted during, be it through transportation, incineration or at landfill. Brands must consider ways in which to reclaim it and circulate it back into their own supply chains. If the material cannot be used for your primary product, ask how else you can use this material?

Post-consumer waste must also be measured when designing an item. Ensure that you offer something innovative and reusable within the packaging to stop it from landing in the hands of the refuse collectors and reaching landfill.

Automate and use data intelligence

For our own customers, we’ve implemented a real-time reporting system appropriately named Delta Global Intelligence. The system is trained to reveal patterns and trends in human behaviour and interactions.

It is also a cost saving and carbon-cutting initiative for the entire supply chain cycle as it ensures better forecasting and stock control, thus reducing waste and unnecessary shipping, whilst improving the traceability of goods in the manufacturing and delivery process.

The artificial intelligence we use helps to identify and eliminate wasteful and unnecessary touchpoints throughout the entire supply chain as well as to increase their value. The production line becomes more customer focused and data helps us address what’s happened in the past and flag up risks for the future. It enhances the delivery and distribution of goods for a more eco-friendly and economic process.

Reduce unnecessary transportation

Overseas and localised transportation all add to the carbon footprint of your brand, so think how you can do things more efficiently. We have created flatpack solutions which increase storage space and reduce transportation and we refuse to ship ridged air-filled structures around the world.

We also set up localised manufacturing facilities closer to the end user in our desired target areas, so this also offers sustainable credibility for the brands we work with.

Consider investing in eco-efficient last mile robotics. Delivery bots are electricity powered, so embracing this technology could reduce carbon emissions and road congestion as well as unnecessary packaging in some cases.

Retailers must also offer eco-friendly delivery options and perhaps even cut down on their ‘next day’  services, as these are more harmful due to delivery companies having no incentive to group close-by deliveries together and don’t tend to have the time to do so while aiming for shorter deadlines, so we’re seeing multiple trips being made when they aren’t necessary.

Reduce the touchpoints and steps in your manufacturing

It may cost more to find an eco-alternative that is sustainably sourced and nearer to your production facility. However, your brand integrity will not be upheld if your packaging and product are claimed to be sustainable and yet are created at opposite ends of the globe. Eventually you will be caught out.

While we are a Leicestershire-based company, we have offices in New York and Hong Kong and manufacturing facilities across the globe which allows brands, such as Louis Vuitton and Estee Lauder who are selling worldwide, to source, store and deliver their packaging from a local facility which decreases the touchpoints in the supply chain and can reduce CO2 emissions by as much as 70%.

Wherever you are based, consider how local your facility and your suppliers are to the end-user. This could dramatically cut down your carbon, as less shipping and carriage is necessary.

Many industries tend to use the same suppliers and fulfilment companies – the assembly of these retailers and a joined database of forecasting could create a global framework.

That could enable multiple companies to stop under-used storage space in worldwide transportation and reduce CO2 emissions by introducing a ‘container share’ method which is more cost-efficient and sustainable for everyone.

As we have now all witnessed, the brand lifecycle can be short-lived if you are not willing to adapt. Fast and cheap options are considerably higher in carbon emissions, so stop cutting corners and consider what else you can offer society. How easy is it to change what you are doing whilst still conveying your main message and engaging with consumers?

It’s all about achieving a better balance between caring for your customer and respecting the world we live in. We believe that, together, we can all do it better.

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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