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How Innovation is Driving New Sustainability Goals

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Sarah Swenson, Global Senior Manager Sustainability at Avery Dennison explains the art of collaboration and driving change for the better with the importance of sustainability and setting goals to benefit our future.

Consumer interest in sustainability intensified during the pandemic. One eye-catching stat from an August 2021 survey found that a staggering 90% of British consumers said they plan to increase buying from brands with ethical credentials. With climate change writ large, people around the world are eager to reduce waste and support more circular models for living. In a recent consumer survey, Avery Dennison found that 62% of global fashion shoppers want brands and retailers to make end-of-life options accessible for their products, with 58% saying fashion brands should help consumers repair items, and 57% saying brands should help consumers resell items when they no longer want to keep them.

Businesses not picking up on this burgeoning trend for eco-consumerism – beware. Whether you’re running a corporate giant, SME, or start-up, action must be taken to address customer preferences. The pressure is on like never before to find ways to cut carbon emissions and waste, and make sustainability goals and achievements crystal clear to customers. If they don’t see you doing the right things, they’ll simply walk.

Innovation mindsets will drive change

Delivering on sustainability goals often boils down to adopting new ways of thinking – doing more with less for example – or going further and developing radical new products that will support far-reaching behavioural change. Innovation in all its forms has underpinned Avery Dennison’s deep-rooted ESG strategy, and we recognise that accountability matters. In October 2021, we announced that our emissions reduction targets were approved by the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) as consistent with levels required to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.

Setting sustainability goals needs a benchmark by which we can ensure everyone is working together towards a collective goal. This acknowledgment by the SBTi gives us confidence that we are setting ambitious scopes for emissions reduction targets, as we strive towards net-zero emissions, which we hope to achieve by 2050.

Large and small enterprises must collaborate

While we’re a large, global operation, we’re constantly linking with smaller players, known for their niche industry specialism, to collectively address the sustainability issue. In particular, working in the apparel manufacturing and fashion retail sectors, we know the use of data and digital tools have the potential to help organisations reduce their carbon footprints.

At Avery Dennison, we produce digital triggers – for instance QR codes on care labels and RFID tags for retailers – and believe they hold the key to enable apparel retailers to keep track of their carbon-reducing progress via data that is accessible throughout the item’s lifecycle. Acting as a gateway, Digital IDs allow consumers to check garment history, composition, and hold information on how to recycle items. Garment recyclers can verify composition which is essential for their processes, while resellers will be able to confirm authenticity. With QR codes on intelligent care labels, brands can also track the volumes of inventory going back into the circular economy, and monitor how effectively they are paring down their carbon impact.

In the US, we recently launched a pilot project with LA-based recycler Ambercycle, a post-consumer garment recycler. The partnership is part of a series of innovation-based collaborations, and involves Avery Dennison’s Digital Care Labels being attached to Ambercycle’s garments. The labels feature a QR code that links to an app offering a digital ‘post purchase experience’ run by Avery Dennison’s connected product cloud.

These labels are revolutionary, allowing people to see how the item was made, and understand the environmental benefits of their choice. When the consumer is finished with the item, they can scan the QR code to see how to properly recirculate the materials. In the case of our pilot, they send it back to Ambercycle, where it will be recycled into a new textile. The project’s ambition is that 100% of the clothes made get recycled.

This is just one example of how working together is helping us develop practical tools that will help businesses and consumers do their bit to tackle climate change in the coming years. Innovations account for nothing if they are not tried and tested, and taken forward in the real world.

SMEs can set ambitious goals too

Businesses know they must track and report emissions if their sustainability strategies are to be credible. Recent news that Burberry plans to be climate positive by 2040, shows the level of determination to drive for transparency and change where mainstream brands are concerned. The John Lewis Partnership is also targeting the throwaway culture with its newly announced £1m Circular Future Fund, aiming to channel cash into innovations that can eliminate waste or pollution in product design.

Meanwhile, legally binding ESG pressures are imminent, so the time for business to act is now. SMEs can be inspired by large players’ ambitious goals too, setting their own targets and unlocking the potential of new technology and smart ideas, for the good of the planet. Serious levels of transparency, fresh ideas, and practical processes will be crucial to successfully deliver all our environmental goals.

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