When it comes to sustainability, we know that our current system is still far from bringing effective change. 2019 wasn’t an exception. Scientists and NGOs point to an existential threat and call for urgent action; businesses say that it’s difficult to implement quickly and comes at a high cost, and most likely will push for governments to set the right regulatory and incentives environment. In response, governments say that they need more pressure from voters, i.e. us, the consumers.
Let’s not get caught up in this vicious circular blame game.
We have also followed COP25 and Davos with interest, and I am sure that you already read all the reports and critics. I must say, paraphrasing a great business writer, John C. Maxwell, that in the eyes of the current situation we must be big enough to admit our mistakes, smart enough to profit from them, and strong enough to correct them.
One thing I have witnessed over the past few years in the consumer goods sector is that the era of corporations integrating sustainable practices is being eclipsed by a new era of companies actively transforming the market to make it more sustainable, and at The Consumer Goods Forum (CGF) we plan to work hard to make this a reality in 2020.
Tackling the Plastics Challenge
Plastics has emerged as top priority for our Board.
At the CGF, we’ve done significant work within our working groups behind the scenes in 2019 and we are very committed to taking our work to the next level with our Coalition of Action on Plastics, which will officially launch soon.
The member companies are clearly aligned on the ambition that no packaging waste should get into nature, and that demonstrable progress towards a circular economy is essential. Last year, together with SystemIQ and McKinsey, we created a blueprint for reaching our ambitions through the development of a simulation model comparing collection and recycling rates, material flows, as well as associated financial and social implications for different combinations of waste management design choices.
In addition to the completed blueprints and system model, a few specific action points will be part of our work in 2020:
- Align on Packaging Design Guidelines. We need to agree on a specific set of principles and guidelines on package design for flexible and rigid that are aligned with the optimal waste management system work.
- Extended Producer Responsibility Principles with the assumption that EPR schemes are rolling out in many countries, there is also a need to align on principles for optimal and fair EPR schemes.
- Engage with stakeholders in mature and immature countries to enable the implementation of optimal waste management systems. This might include launching pilots at a country-scale to test the combination of different collection models to reach no leakage in transitional countries.
- Scale up chemical recycling for flexibles, creating sufficient demand to catalyse investment.
A Forest Positive Future
So here it is… 2020 has arrived, and while our member companies have made progress on our goals, set back in 2010, we have learned that cleaning up individual supply chains won’t alone drive the transformation needed to end deforestation.
In 2010, our strategy was rooted in remediating our individual company supply chains often through certification and while we have seen progress as a result of the hard work and investments we made in our supply chains, we have found that certification is a tool, but not the comprehensive solution the world needs to end deforestation.
We should have been faster to recognise the limitations of narrow supply chain interventions. We are doing so now and will be more agile in assessing our impact and optimising our efforts moving forward.
We want – and need – a more transformative approach that will get us to a more forest positive future.
Our strategy is to reevaluate our relationships with suppliers who cannot meaningfully show they follow acceptable business practices across their respective commodity supply chains, not just what they sell to us.
We will also be partners in driving change by supporting integrated land use approaches and policies.
Because we know no one sector or focus on one single commodity or geography can solve deforestation alone, we will advocate for and support practices and policies that change behaviours and outcomes at a macro-level.
As Charlotte Streck from Climate Focus recently pointed out, we need a Plan Marshal type of intervention, partly about investments, but not only about investments, mainly about business models. It would include national budget allocations, development support, carbon finance, private investment, and public-private finance. We need to protect forests in all the ways we can with all the passion that we have, and the money should be used to empower those living off the land and create vibrant sustainable rural communities. We need to step out of our silos and appreciate the need for different – but coordinated – strategies to save forests.
Looking to The Future
2020 looks set to be a year of accelerating progress and rising to the numerous challenges faced by our industry. It represents an important moment to for us to intensify engagement and action.
You are all used to reading that climate change remains an enormous catastrophe in the making and the clock is ticking, and all the changes that are needed via corporate commitments, national action plans, and intergovernmental agreements to drive impact. My real hope at a macro level in my daily work with businesses is that we manage to move from creating just one form of value – financial – for just one interest group – shareholders – into a more regenerative model. And yes, being regenerative must be profitable.
At a more micro or personal level, I think we all need to get used to a new model of consumption; changes will be required to our lifestyles, including the ways in which we choose and use products and services. So, if better, more sustainable products become available, are affordable, perform well and are convenient, there is no excuse to use some of the usual arguments we hear about conflicting priorities, scepticism and force of habit….every purchasing decision we make is a vote on the world we want to live in.
This post was written and contributed by:
Director, Environmental Sustainability
The Consumer Goods Forum