Tina Nguyen Christian Yonkers and Geoff Nudelman
Published 2 years ago.
About a 14 minute read.
Image: Albrecht Fietz/Pixabay
At SB’21 San Diego, innovators in the agriculture, electronics, food and
plastics industries shared lessons learned from a variety of initiatives aimed at closing loops and optimizing value chains for a circular, regenerative future.
Image credit: Footprint
Kicking off day one of SB’21 San
Diego, this panel
featured a diverse line-up offering a 360-degree view of the current plastics
landscape. Dave Ford, founder of the Ocean Plastics Leadership
(OPLN), kicked off the morning by pointing out the challenges and
opportunities in closing the loop in plastic value chains.
In 2020, the OPLN began creating unprecedented collaboration between seemingly
disparate groups, catalyzing the Global Plastic Treaty
Dialogues. Ford asserted the conviction
that “tension equals progress,” a pattern he has witnessed through the successes
of OLPN thus far.
Closed Loop Partners’ Paula Luu, project director at the Center for
the Circular Economy, said that she and her research team realized that in the
ideal scenario of eliminating all plastic packaging waste, only one-third of
plastic pollution would be addressed.
Truly sustainable businesses address the many interconnected social and environmental challenges that brands and their customers face — and strive for net-positive outcomes and impacts, in addition to growth. SB's latest guidebook can help your company navigate the path toward enhanced brand sustainability with key insights, actionable steps and a holistic framework that defines a roadmap for good growth.
“We need to be thinking about the solutions to drive circularity for all plastics in the economy,” Luu said.
She explained the importance of engaging both upstream and downstream solutions,
with policy being applicable to
Luu discussed the nascent solution of advanced
also known as molecular or chemical recycling, promising for its ability to
break plastic down into its most basic constituent parts to produce liquid or
gas 'feedstocks', which can then be used to make virgin plastic. The Center for
the Circular Economy will publish a report next month, offering insights on the
risks and benefits of the technology.
Paloma Lopez, co-founder of Future Fit
stressed the importance of design and thinking systemically about the challenges
towards circularity. She reframed the principles of “reduce, reuse, and recycle”
to “reduce, reuse, and return” — a concept FFF is exploring through its
packaging take-back program. Lopez emphasized the need to gauge consumer
participation, improve prototypes, and learn from current supply chain
As she pointed out, Millennials are excited about sustainability but aren’t
confident in their ability to recycle properly. Packaging take-back (aka
is one way to respond to the current needs of the market while building loyalty
through an ongoing relationship, versus a once-off transaction. Future Fit
Foods’ vision is to eventually use packaging that is edible and backyard
Global Sustainability Director of Dow Packaging and Specialty Plastics,
emphasized holistic solutions. “We can’t fix one thing without thinking about
how it affects everything else,” he said.
Multivariable systems require striking a balance when finding solutions and
still maintaining company values. Wooster said Dow strikes this balance by
manufacturing circular polymers and advancing projects that serve the company’s
objectives towards circularity. He highlighted Recycling for
a program in Brazil that educates cooperatives to understand their own work
processes in order to drive efficiency. The program empowers workers to
continuously improve their productivity, leading to a more viable and
sustainable income in the long term. Recognizing that not every company in the
world is in the position to coordinate progress on closing the loop, Dow sees
as a key responsibility.
In balancing goals to lower carbon emissions while maintaining growth, Dow
plans to build the world’s first zero-carbon, large-scale plastics plant in
Canada. In planning for the future and a lower carbon footprint, Wooster
explains new facilities are expected to last 40-60 years.
Susan Koehler, Chief Marketing Officer at
Footprint, shared her inspiration to create an
alternative to plastic and polystyrene foam. Today, Footprint’s plastic and foam
alternatives protect foods at grocery stores across the country. Koehler
emphasized the importance of collaborations in driving innovation, such as
Footprint’s work with Conagra in engineering alternative packaging
materials. She concluded that consumers will lead the transition to plastics
that are healthier for people and the planet — Footprint’s next developments
will include B2C offerings.
Image credit: David Mark/Pixabay
One of the most pressing issues on the retail side of the apparel business is
relaying an increased amount of transparency and sourcing information in
response to climate and consumer demand. This is potentially the most urgent
with the world’s most used textile: cotton.
A Tuesday lunchtime panel featured two leaders in the US cotton trade who
attempted to shed some light on the issue, along with a progress update on the
U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol.
“Sustainability revolves around being economically sustainable,” said
generational California farmer Aaron Barcellos, whose farm produces
cotton in addition to a range of other crops.
He described some of the economic and regulatory challenges around domestic
cotton production, but also explained how the Cotton Trust Protocol allows him
to be more transparent as a producer and to connect further with brands and
National Cotton Council President and CEO Gary Adams highlighted the
specifics of the protocol, which launched last
The multi-step process verifies growing data through the entire production
process from around 300 growers worldwide — from farm to shelf — and offers more
data that brands can show consumers about the origins of their products.
He added that to independently verify the data, 5-8 percent of farmers will
receive a random visit from a third-party group that verifies the inputs through
analysis of their on-site practices. The goal is to educate each member of the
process — farmer, fabric mill, supplier, retailer and consumer — about what goes
into a cotton product and potential paths for sustainable improvement.
Barcellos wrapped the panel by explaining some of the surprising benefits that a
transparency-based system such as the Trust Protocol can provide for cotton
growers across the 17 states that produce it domestically.
“Our value is in keeping our farm going generation to generation,” he said, “and
the Trust Protocol is a good tool that can help us do that.”
L-R: John Hanselman, Lara Ramdin, Emily Johannes | Image credit: Christian Yonkers
Most companies have committed to some form of science-based sustainability
targets, but few consider what it means to be a net-positive business. A Tuesday
SB’21 session covered how Nestlé, Dole Sunshine Company, Unilever, and Vanguard
Renewables are going beyond “do no harm” to promote net benefit for people and
In the last decade, Nestlé has shifted from a do-no-harm
to a do-net-good approach. The company aims for carbon neutrality across its
value chain by 2050, with interim milestones focusing on regeneration a-scale —
the latter being driven by supply chain
When Vanguard Renewables developed a way to
turn food waste into renewable fuels and fertilizers, it thought the world would
come crashing down its doors. It didn’t.
Vanguard founder and CEO John Hanselman discovered the need to build
relationships with partners to help build a robust proof of concept and scale
his company’s innovative solutions. Vanguard — along with
and Dairy Farmers of America — created the Farm Powered Strategic
(FPSA) to boost food waste recycling and expand renewable energy production
through methane collection.
Niki King, Head of Sustainability at Unilever, praised the FPSA for putting
its bold words into action, and highlighted the role collaborations play in
effectively tackling climate change and honing competition.
These are journeys that aren't necessarily new, said Emily Johannes, Senior
Manager of Sustainable Sourcing at Nestlé. What is new is an urgency to
respond regeneratively to the pandemic, racial injustice, and the climate
Dole Sunshine, a 170-year-old company, is only two
years into its sustainability journey. But its
audacious: Beyond carbon neutrality, zero food waste, fossil-free packaging and
providing nutritious food to one billion
For Dole, sustainability means being honest about shortcomings, mistakes, and
rebranding for the sake of doing right. It recognizes it lacks internal
capabilities to meet goals, requiring support from alliances and partnerships:
“We recognize that we can’t do it on our own,” said Chief Innovation Officer
Regeneration infuses a net-positive outlook on all aspects of ESG, bringing
roadmaps and complex supply chains together to see the essence of what it means
to regenerate in a unique context: What works for cocoa doesn’t work with
coffee, but positive efforts in principles-based approaches lead to net good.
Turning rubbish into profit is one principles-based approach every regenerative
brand can get behind. For Vanguard, learning to extract multiple resources from
a single waste stream is key in achieving net positivity.
Dole and Nestlé agree — finding ways to use their own industrial waste and
processes to create net-positive resources, such as water recycling in Nestlé
plants or using pineapple leaf fibers to create faux leather.
But regenerative ideas don’t scale on their own: As Hanselman pointed out,
regenerative concepts and practices won’t become KPIs without coming of age in
alliances and pre-competitive partnerships.
Interface's Net Effect carpet tiles are made from upcycled ocean plastic | Image credit: Interface
There’s plenty of talk about reducing plastic usage across almost every
industry, but few truly transparent and detailed methods of getting there in a
meaningful, long-term way.
So, when Lonely Whale CEO Dune Ives conceived a new framework for
socially responsible ocean-bound plastic supply chains, it signaled a serious
commitment from several major participating companies to a long-term plastic
reduction and improvement strategy.
“This environmental situation we’re in is all of our problem,” Ives said,
noting the need for serious and swift action.
Company leaders within the NextWave Plastics
(totaling 24 companies across 19 countries) worked together to come up with a
six-point plan set to reduce the amount of plastic entering the oceans, but also
creating real ways to remove plastic already there and create usable pathways
for those tasked with collecting the waste.
The vision includes:
Freely chosen employment
Fair and predictable payment
Beneficial health and safety conditions
Prioritizing child welfare
Strong business ethics, traceability and documentation
Support for marginalized populations
“The people are what make up the supply chain,” said Dell Technologies
Global Head of Sustainability Page Motes, one of three other panelists on
the pre-recorded panel.
Motes noted how this framework required Dell to re-examine its own supply chain
and evolve the way it sourced and distributed plastics for its products.
“As the supply became more prevalent and using it in greater increments, we saw
economies of scale kick in,” she added.
Several companies already have more progressive plastic policies in place and
this framework is meant to take the learnings of those companies that have
already taken the leap and provide applicability to businesses of all sizes.
Interface Director of Technical Sustainability Mikhail Davis provided
some context around the breadth and depth of work it took to get to this point,
and how far we still have to go: “(The goal is) to get to the point where we’re
doing social good locally with our raw materials,” he said. “You have to figure
out how to get yourself on the path (towards that).”
VP of Sustainability Strategy and Partnerships at CPI Card
Group, Terra Grantham,
brought more of a financial perspective and outlined work CPI has done with
social good initiative First Mile (fka
helping families in Haiti make a living from plastic recycling and
converting those proceeds into a better standard of living.
Above all, the framework signals plenty of potential for a roadmap to reducing
plastic’s impact across business, the environment and society.
“Come on the journey with us!” Motes said.
Image credit: Alexandre Farms/Facebook
To nourish 10 billion people by 2050, we need real innovation to meet the demand
while reducing the impact on our planet. Elena Rice, R&D Chief Scientific
Officer at Genus PLC, feels that the topic of
animal breeding technology is missing from the sustainable food production
dialogue. Major transformations in the genomic industry over the past two
decades have tremendously improved animal health, leading to increased
production and decreased input.
On Wednesday afternoon, Rice highlighted the many interconnected benefits of
better animal breeding — including the eradication of animal disease and
antibiotic use, a decrease in the animal deaths due to disease; and by default,
a reduction in the number of animals that would enter into the food chain in the
first place. While these results directly impact farmers of all sizes through
increased productivity, they also have environmental advantages such as a
reduction in carbon emissions, resource use and waste.
Despite the many benefits mentioned, Rice stresses the challenge of bringing new
animal breeding technologies into the marketplace. Overcoming this challenge
depends on technology acceptance by society. There’s a lot of opportunity for
animal breeding to be a solution for sustainable animal protein for those who
want it. “Productivity is at the heart of sustainable food production,” she
Rice reminded us that everything starts with genetics. Various forms of
selective breeding have been used since the dawn of human society — and are
distinct from genetically modified organisms (GMO). In this practice, animal
traits are measured, and the best animals are used as parent-animals. This
provides livestock farmers with a generation of animals that are better able to
thrive in their unique geographic conditions. Furthermore, Rice explained that
genetic selection is the best response to illnesses that currently cannot be
effectively prevented or treated by traditional veterinary medicines or
JoDee Haala, Director of Public Affairs of Christensen
Farms, highlighted the positive impact of
animal breeding through its role in supporting family-owned and -operated farms
to help build back small communities. Haala explained how science and technology
have helped Christensen Farms drastically increase yield and productivity,
particularly in Minnesota’s harsh climate. In some places, farms already need to
provide extra infrastructure to create a controlled environment just for animals
to grow. Haala describes animal breeding as “doing more with less, using science
Meanwhile, the cows at Blake Alexandre’s Alexandre Family
Farms are slightly different than other cows.
Aside from selectively breeding for hearty and durable cows that thrive in
Northern California’s climate, Alexandre also determined to breed the A1 beta
casein gene out of the cows.
The result was the reintroduction of A2/A2 milk, a milk that is natural for
human digestion. Alexandre Family Farms became the world’s first producer of
organic A2/A2 milk.
In the journey towards a more sustainable future, there is no one-size-fits-all
approach. At a time when a lot of small farmers are coming out of a difficult
commodity cycle, new approaches to animal breeding pose an appealing option to
explore ways to distinguish your brand’s quality and performance.
Published Oct 26, 2021 2pm EDT / 11am PDT / 7pm BST / 8pm CEST
Tina is a sustainability consultant with EcoNomics, Inc. She is a longtime surfer who is passionate about the world of waste.
Christian is a writer, photographer, filmmaker, and outdoor junkie obsessed with the intersectionality between people and planet. He partners with brands and organizations with social and environmental impact at their core, assisting them in telling stories that change the world.
Geoff is a freelance journalist and copywriter focused on making the world a better place through compelling copy. He covers everything from apparel to travel while helping brands worldwide craft their messaging. In addition to Sustainable Brands, he's currently a contributor at Penta, AskMen.com, Field Mag and many others. You can check out more of his work at geoffnudelman.com.