What can FMCG brands learn from our current favourite sustainable business practices?

‘Sustainability’ is a buzzword we’ve all heard flying about in recent years. There has been a drive towards incorporating sustainability into all aspects of our lives; from buying second hand, to reusing jam jars, to cycling to work. FMCG brands have embraced this trend and discovered a range of ways to think and act sustainably, whether it be making their products and supply chain more ethical and eco-friendly, or starting out with a sustainable ethos. Indeed, many have pursued innovative and diverse ways to be more environmentally and socially conscious. But, upon discussing our favourite sustainable ideas we realised that FMCG brands could perhaps learn a little from other brands and categories. What follows is an insight into our top 5 picks and what they tell us:

1. RAW

Just in time for the festival season, we’ve been impressed by the proliferation of sustainable innovation in the sphere of rolling paper. One of our favourites is RAW, a plant-based paper (made of organic hemp) with a natural tree sap gumline and no added artificial ingredients. And they don’t just implement sustainable, vegan-friendly practices in production of their products, but they also give back to society with The RAW Foundation. This brand gets us thinking, can FMCGs integrate sustainable trends, including use of plant-based materials, into everyday products?

2. Rapunai

Isle of Wight based brand Rapunai is one the most ethical and environmentally responsible fashion brands out there.

Not only does it operate a closed loop, circular economy approach to production, offering customers £5 credit to send worn out items back to them to be remanufactured into new items, but it’s also run as a social enterprise that combats youth unemployment AND its Isle of Wight facility is powered solely by renewable energy. PHEW!

In an industry that globally produces 100 billion new items EVERY YEAR, it might seem like smaller, niche brands like Rapunai will have little impact on the relentless growth of fast fashion.  But with awareness of the environmental impact of the fashion industry growing and with mindsets fundamentally changing, it can’t be long before the big boys have to adopt some of these practices to remain relevant to an increasingly discerning and cynical consumer. FMCG brands could also be the ones to change the game.

3. Kaffee Form

Kaffee Form have taken the choice out of having to decide whether to buy a glass, plastic or bamboo reusable coffee cup, and provided the perfect alternative: a coffee cup made of coffee. You heard that right! They make eco-friendly and durable cups and saucers from recycled coffee beans and biopolymers.

With a growing abundance of coffee fanatics, coffee has become a problematic waste resource. Kaffee Form weren’t happy about this and decided to utilise the waste to make stylish, dishwasher safe coffee cups. They come in various forms, including espresso, cappuccino and reusable cups. Perhaps FMCG should turn their gaze towards reusing popular waste materials as oppose to simply disposing of them.

4. Desso

Desso are a progressive and sustainable carpet and carpet tile company who implement a Cradle to Cradle philosophy. They recycle abandoned plastic fishing nets to make ECONYL nylon and use it to make carpet tiles. Waste from their Refinity plant is also recycled to make the yarn.  AND, if this isn’t enough, they have also considered pollution on the land with their Desso AirMaster carpet. This product is 4 times better at capturing dust than standard carpets, and thus it works to improve indoor air quality.

On top of this, they have joined Healthy Seas, an initiative which aims to clean up the seas. With a predicted 640,000 tonnes of abandoned fishing nets in the oceans, Desso has made it their mission to consider ways to combat man-made plastic pollution, and we think FMCG brands should strive to do the same.

5. Supermarket arms race

Finally, there appears to be some sustainability-related competition in the air at supermarkets in the UK, and it’s having a huge practical impact. Waitrose recently appealed to their environmentally conscious customers by trialling their first plastic-free store. This occurred only two weeks after Morrisons released their ‘buy bagless’ initiative. They plan to save over 56 tonnes of plastic per year by selling loose fruit and veg. However, it seems that Iceland hopped on the sustainability train first by becoming the first UK major retailer to commit to eradicating plastic packaging from their own-brand products. They plan to replace plastic bags with paper bags by 2023. A closer target is Asda committing to banishing all single-use plastic items from its stores by the end of 2019.

With no supermarket wanting to be left behind, it’s a nail-biting and fast-moving competition to see who will be the most plastic-free in 5-years-time. Maybe FCMG players also need a bit of healthy competition to get the ball rolling.

Overall, we believe that there’s a lot that FMCG brands can learn from these 5 sustainable ideas. Whether that be ensuring that products are made from recycled or reused materials, or combatting man-made waste, or giving back to the community, it is evident that there are multiple avenues and ways for brands to be more sustainable. Perhaps a more holistic approach is needed, and perhaps FMCG brands should consider if they are being environmentally and socially considerate at every step of their production.

BY ENGINEER Maria Lawrence

Maria.Lawrence@thevalueengineers.com