Most people understand that the growing population and demand for more convenient products and packaging are straining the planet’s supply of natural resources to the point that humans will deplete supplies of oil, natural gas and other minerals by the end of this century, according to the report, Embracing Value From Natural Capital: Advancing Packaging Solutions that Consumers Want and Companies Can Provide.
But, it adds, what many companies might not realize is that using renewable materials not only will help mitigate the demand on the planet and stretch the availability of finite resources, but it also can “provide business with a more reliable, predictable and resilient supply of raw materials ensuring that their enterprises can prosper.”
This in turn can help companies manage costs and hedge against price volatility, it adds.
In addition, “use of packaging made from renewable materials helps companies capitalize on changing consumer purchasing behaviors motivated by concerns about resource scarcity,” Tetra Pak adds in the report.
Despite these concrete business incentives for shifting to renewable resources, the report notes that “meaningful scale of adoption remains elusive.”
It attributes the slow adoption to four main challenges that were uncovered by Tetra Pak over the course of two years as part of the company’s Moving to the Front initiative. As part of the initiative, researchers hosted roundtable discussions, webinars, focus groups and other outreach activities to gauge businesses’ and consumers’ interest in and commitment to using renewable resources.
What researchers found were four real and perceived factors impacted increased adoption of renewable materials, including: communication gaps and misunderstandings about what renewable materials are; perceived complexity around switching to renewable materials; cost concerns that gave company leaders pause; and varying levels of consumer demand depended on education and information.
Closing the communication gap
To fully achieve all that renewable resources can offer, stakeholders at every point in the supply chain must have a common understanding of what renewable resources are and the value they bring, according to the report.
Elisabeth Comere, director of environment and government affairs for Tetra Pak, explained to FoodNavigator-USA that Tetra Pak defines renewable resources as those that are natural and regenerate over time, but that others might consider renewable to mean biodegradable or recyclable.
Aligning stakeholders’ definition of renewable would ensure a smoother, sustained supply chain of such materials, she added.
In addition, she noted, consumers need to better understand the value of renewable materials so that they will prioritize buying them. The report suggests one way to do this is to create financial incentives for reusing or repairing items, such as giving tax benefits to those who exchange cotton clothes for a secondary market.
Focus on “here and now” technologies
Stakeholders who do not currently use renewable resources told Tetra Pak researchers that even though they might want to, making the switch was “complicated.”
Comere acknowledged that accessing raw materials can be difficult and sometimes the technologies are not yet as reliable or available as desired. But, she said, there are plenty of renewable options currently available in the packaging industry that often are a better option than those from finite resources. For example, she noted that packaging from wood fiber and bio-plastics already exist and are mainstream – thus debunking the misconception around the idea of switching to renewable resources being complex.
Consider the cost of doing nothing
The cost of switching to renewable materials was an understandably significant hurdle for many corporate executives that Tetra Pak researchers questioned.
The report acknowledges these concerns and notes that traditional return on investment measures will not drive sustainability forward. Given the risks to the planet and the dwindling supply of some resources, the report urges executives to approach ROI differently.
“We need to look at ROI differently and in more nontraditional ways such as considering the costs of natural resources and, more pointedly, the ‘do nothing’ costs industry will bear in future years if resource scarcity is not addressed now,” the researchers note.
They add that some forward-looking interviewees suggested corporations “follow the principles of true cost accounting, the model which factors in the cost of negative externalities into the pricing of goods and services.”
Educate consumers to drive change
Tetra Pak’s outreach also revealed current consumer understanding of renewable resources is relatively limited, but when they are educated on the potential positive impact of renewable resources they will change their purchasing behaviors to favor the more progressive options, Comere said.
Indeed, the report found that consumer awareness of the issue already is growing. It found eight in 10 consumers said they are familiar with sustainability issues and 41% of household purchasers said resource constrains are a growing, top of mind issue for them.
As a result, many consumers surveyed agreed that seeking out food and beverages in renewable packaging was among the top three actions that they would be willing to take to ease sustainability concerns.
Despite these positive indicators, Comere said more needs to be done with consumers. “At the end of the day, consumers are really the ones who are in the drivers’ seat and they are the ones making the decisions from a purchasing standpoint,” so the more that can be done to create consumer demand for products made with renewable resources, the more of a priority companies will make switching, she said.