In February, we shared our 2023 ESG trends. In this series, we’ll dive into specific industries, highlighting the key sustainability shifts we’re seeing that will affect the future of businesses. First up, trends from two sectors in the fast-moving consumer goods industry: food products and apparel.
Food Products and Agriculture
Trend #1: Innovative and sustainable packaging
If sustainable packaging is not on your radar, it should be. According to OECD data, the world produces over 389 million tons of plastic waste per year. Innovative strategies to integrate sustainable packaging is a critical step to reduce the environmental impact of your business. Although not a one-size-fits-all initiative, companies can prioritize:
- Eliminating, reducing or decreasing weight of packaging
- Refillable or reusable packaging
- Recycled plastics, which include post-consumer recycled resin (PCR), post-industrial resin (PIR) and ocean-bound plastic (OBR)
It’s also important to avoid greenwashing when communicating about your packaging process. The EU is leading the way in regulating claims about sustainable packaging, with formal regulations expected in early 2023 that will mandate evidence of the truth behind a product’s environmental claims. For consumers and producers alike, third-party certifications for products and materials are a way to validate sustainable packaging practices.
Trend #2: Regenerative and sustainable agriculture
Regenerative agriculture is a holistic farming approach that minimizes chemical and physical soil disturbances and prioritizes soil cover, plant diversity, and animal integration. In his 2017 edited volume Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming, Paul Hawken estimates that increasing regenerative and other sustainable agricultural practices could result in 23.15 gigatons of carbon reduction by 2050, not to mention contributing to soil health, human health and financial well-being for farmers. A win-win-win-win!
Companies like Dr. Bronner’s and Tillamook are advocates for regenerative agriculture and implement sustainable agricultural practices. Industry giants like General Mills are getting involved in initiatives to promote soil health and farmer well-being.
Fairtrade America is an organization that provides third-party certification for certain sustainability and worker human rights standards to be met. In their latest annual report, they predict that consumer awareness will increase demand for sustainably-produced products. Sustainable agricultural practices also have the potential to increase crop yield and provide financial security for farmers and can aid companies looking to reduce climate and environmental risks in the supply chain.
Trend #1: Circularity
Despite recent headlines, circularity is not dead (but we have a long way to go). A report from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation documents increased awareness of waste and the need for action in the apparel industry. Presently, less than 1% of clothing is reused, it is essential that communication on circularity is careful and credible.
Product waste is a significant issue for the industry. Tactics to address waste include extending the time the purchaser wears the item, as opposed to throwing them away when they are still wearable, and recycling textiles at end-of-use. In the U.S. alone, an estimated 11.3 million tons of textile waste is discarded each year. There isn’t a single solution, but designing for longer product life and using materials that are more easily recycled are actionable behaviors that reduce industry waste and emissions. Many companies like Neiman Marcus, Ralph Lauren and Patagonia recognize this opportunity and are seeking out third-party certification that products have been produced sustainably and designing products for long-term wear and recyclability.
Trend #2: Fabric
Related to concerns about circularity, fabrics are at the forefront of industry sustainability trends. Given that cotton is more easily recyclable compared to other fabric choices, it might seem to be a great choice. In reality, it’s more complicated. Cotton comprises around one quarter of all of the clothing we wear, but can have harmful effects on soil and water use. Consumer demand for cotton is unlikely to decrease, so what can companies do? Some companies are committing to third-party sustainable cotton alternatives, while others are exploring alternatives, such as lab-grown cotton or improved recycling practices. The Better Cotton Initiative highlights how sustainable farming practices and increasing traceability are key to keeping up with consumer demand while mitigating negative environmental impacts. Companies like QVC partner with Better Cotton to help cotton farmers thrive and meet their sustainability goals.
Terms like “regenerative agriculture,” “sustainable packaging,” and “circularity” have been buzzwords in the fast-moving consumer goods industry over the last several years, and in 2023 they show no signs of slowing down. To stay ahead of the trends:
- Put comprehensive policies in place
- Collaborate and support your suppliers and vendors as you tackle these complex challenges
- Build consumer awareness about the impact of your products and services
- Seek credible, third-party partners to help solve the problems or verify your efforts
- Disclose data and metrics to back up sustainability claims