Chemistry, Materials & Packaging
Big, Bold Goals Needed to Drive Ongoing Quest for Sustainable Materials

We currently produce enough plastic to wrap Denmark in plastic film every day of the year all year round.

This was just one of the shocking facts revealed by Sofus Midtgaard – Managing Partner & Nordic Lead at Leaderlab & LAUNCH, and moderator for Tuesday’s panel discussion that explored accelerating the transition to healthy products through the development of sustainable materials.

The need for change is obvious. So what is the business world doing? The theme of this lively discussion revolved around the critical role of business in mainstreaming sustainability through setting big, bold goals; innovating to make sustainable choices easy choices; and advocating for large-scale change.

Big, bold goals

According to Jonas Engberg, Sustainability Manager at IKEA, 23 percent of plastics used in IKEA products in 2015 were bio-based, but it has set an ambitious goal to increase this to 100 percent by 2020. LEGO has a similarly large goal of ensuring 100 percent of raw materials for products and packaging are sustainable by 2030, and Carlsberg has committed to having a fully biodegradable beer bottle within the next three years.

Innovating to make sustainable choices easy choices

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The panellists agreed that ensuring sustainable choices are convenient choices, both for business and consumers, will take some innovating.

When raw materials make up a significant percentage of the cost of production (75 percent for LEGO products), the transition to sustainable materials simply must at worse maintain existing costs or ideally decrease them.

One way of doing this is to recycle raw materials in existing products. For LEGO, this means increasing the number of products that are made from just one raw material. Holding up a plastic car – the physical embodiment of LEGO’s sustainability drive - VP for Environmental Responsibility Tim Brooks asserted that removing metal components and making the car 100 percent plastic reduced production time and the cost of production by 50 percent.

Cost reductions, however, are only desirable if quality is maintained. The challenge lies in ensuring sustainable products are high quality, affordable products.

“Consumers are used to the sustainable choices being the most expensive choices. But we want them to be the most convenient,” Engberg claimed. “We can’t afford to only make products for people with thick wallets. We need to make products for everyone.”

Advocating for change

While sourcing new sustainable materials and recycling existing materials internally is a step in the right direction, real, lasting change will require larger changes in the external environment. Simon Hoffmeyer Boas, Sustainability Director for the Carlsberg Group, reiterated the role of business in shifting social norms around consumerism: “Just because something is biodegradable doesn’t mean it is not waste. We need to encourage consumers to re-use products.”

Claus Stig Pedersen – Head of Corporate Sustainability for Novozymes, described the company’s role in advocating for a price on carbon. “Pollution is too cheap,” he stated. “We need to change the business landscape for big change to happen.”

Lasting, large-scale change requires solid leadership and strong partnerships. Kathryn Sheridan – CEO and founder at Sustainability Consult – poignantly reminded us of this as the session drew to an end. Accelerating the transition to sustainable materials will require organizations to have specific visions that are credible and that truly inspire customers to join them on their journey towards a more sustainable future.

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