Consumers don’t yet understand the holistic picture when they are condemning plastic

By Jenny Eagle

- Last updated on GMT

The LuxePack conference sessions Monaco. Photo: LuxePack.
The LuxePack conference sessions Monaco. Photo: LuxePack.

Related tags Packaging Luxury LuxePack Sustainability

As the debate surrounding sustainable packaging is unlikely to disappear any time soon, we speak to The Absolut Company to find out what plans it has for the future following its roundtable discussion at LuxePack Monaco (September 30-October 2).

The roundtable included Sandrine Sommer, CSR & sustainable development director, Guerlain; Anne Enger, packaging development and eco-design, The Absolut Company; Géraldine Vallejo, sustainability programme director, Kering Group and Olivier Wenden, executive director, Fondation Prince Albert II de Monaco.


Anne Enger

The main concerns expressed from people in the audience included; because of social pressure brands are using paper over plastic, but this is not always the most economical, there was a worry that some companies are panicking over the ‘Greenwashing’ trend and the advice given to consumers is not always correct.

Sustainable development is a major concern for luxury brands and consumers are expecting different things from brands,” said Vallejo. “We want products that don’t cause any harm to the environment and our brands must keep to this. Our ambition is to reduce our environmental impact by 40% by 2025. A lot of innovation exists today and if we continue as normal it won’t be enough.

Raw materials affect between two thirds to three quarters of the overall impact, some raw materials have certification and we go for that or recycled material, paper is a no-brainer or FSC certified, switching to organic cotton made a big difference to our environmental impact. We don’t know everything on plastics so we rely on science for that. Each of the brands choose what they are doing but we can also work together to end single use plastic.​”

According to Enger, drink is in a category where consumers don’t think about packaging. 

The design and packaging is very important to us because that more or less represents the brand. We have increased the recyclability of our glass by 44% but we need to ensure consumers recycle their glass so we can get hold of it​,” she said. 

We are constantly increasing this but we need to have more, we have decreased the weight and we need to redo the whole production line which is a step we are considering, which is a huge investment for us. We are looking at the shipping cases where we transport the bottles, but we need stability for the box so it has to be a balance between these two things. We are currently looking into new packaging, and what could potentially be the next big thing. It is a huge topic for us to investigate.​” 

Wenden said consumers still want the quality but it has to be ethically and respectful of our environment.

We only have one planet and there is no plan B. We have a limited number of resources and raw materials but we need to work together,”​ he said. 

The Fondation Prince Albert II de Monaco financially supports micro businesses and small impact initiatives for the greater good. It partnered with the Tara Ocean Foundation, Surfrider Foundation Europe, and the Mava Foundation to launch the Beyond Plastic Med association (BeMed), this year calling for micro-initiatives to challenge the issue of plastic pollution in the Mediterranean. 

To change legislation at political level is so big and takes time so we are trying to do something at the ground level,” added Wenden. “This works much faster than at the higher level waiting for regulation to change​. 

Sommer agrees with Wenden and said it is not enough to expect more from your suppliers because you have to work together. 

It’s not an easy issue to work on sustainability because you have to reinvent everything, it changes the whole business​,” she said. 

Enger said The Absolut Company has many longterm relationships with its suppliers and works with them to innovate together and is always looking into further expanding this relationship to find a ‘win, win solution’. 

We need to think about what is the purpose and motivation of innovation. Is it to improve something or just to have a new piece of technology. We need to innovate for the end users. Regarding suppliers what we expect is for them to be proactive in their field so we can together find new solutions, be more up-to-date with the trends and what is adding value​,” she added.

Sommer said the problem today is everybody ‘imagines the subject’ of sustainability and what that is and every retailer has a different definition of what sustainability is. “No-one has the best solution it has to be reinvented all the time,” she added. 

Vallejo said one of the biggest challenges for Kering Group is thanks to the increase in e-commerce sales there is a variety of b2b packaging that is of a lower value that even the customer doesn’t want to see any more and it is getting lost in the chain of the 3Rs which need to applied in terms of reduce, reuse, recycle. 

The panelists agree that the idea of a refillable bottle could become the new normal and it will be interesting to see how that will manifest digitally, but it is only being used for premium products at the moment. 

We are looking to increase the amount of recycled content we produce and brand new ideas to push us to the limits. We have to rethink about what b2b packaging is. It’s difficult to monitor all the b2b packaging around the world. We try to return the packaging as much as possible to the supplier and we want to address the topic of poly bags because of the way its produced and distributed​,” said Vallejo. 

There are three different types of poly bags on the market (high-density polyethylene (HDPE), low-density polyethylene (LDPE), or linear low-density polyethylene (LLDPE)). and this has to be re-thought, using more recycled content, eliminating the poly bags that are not used, we know we can’t stop it right away, but we are piloting the reuse of them between our stores, through a partnership with Fashion for Good, but there is still a long way to go​.” 

Åhus distillery

Enger added at The Absolut Company, owned by Pernod Ricard, it recycles everything that is plastic, metal and glass. 

We also live in a country (Sweden) where we recycle a lot but our distillery in Åhus is a World Class Best carbon-neutral facility. We don’t talk about that because we need to be 99.9% correct that what we are doing is the best,​” she said.

We are looking at what kind of new packaging needs to be recyclable but it’s not easy because sometimes we need plastic. We need to see what other options there will be in the future. But how do you motivate the supermarkets to adhere to your principles? It depends on the leadership team. We know the US needs to improve their recyclability rates and we are looking to see what we can do with each individual country. It’s something we have not solved yet and we need to find a solution that works for everybody.​” 

Wenden added what we see on the ground is ‘tragic’. “We see the impact at ground level the way we behave and consume. Our philosophy is not to rely on the guy next door but to do it for yourself. Only you can make the change at household level, in your department at work. We should resolve the situation at a local level before thinking of the bigger planet. If you think about the wider picture it’s too complex so do what you can at a local level, at home,” he said. 

One guest told the panel she sees brands moving from plastic to paper but paper has 4%-5% times more volume when being transported so what you are saving on the one hand is creating other issues further down the line. 

Plastic is bad but it has its own solutions. It can be compostable, degradable, recyclable. We are demonizing plastic and not looking at it holistically, we are creating issues by moving to paper bags without saying they must come from sustainable sources​. 

We are running in a direction and encouraging people to go in that direction without knowing what effect that could have in 10 years’ time but by not looking at that completely as a whole could be devastating to society.​” 

Enger agreed and said: “Yes we need to look at it from a holistic perspective, sometimes the raw material is very good but it cannot be recycled, the thing is to be honest, the end consumer does not have enough knowledge, right now plastic is bad in the eye of the consumer so for a brand we need to be careful, but we need to wait because that is where the consumers are at right now with their thinking. 

We are looking at paper more because of that, but we need to help the consumer become more knowledable, recycle more and to be more transparent. We need to work together and go for longterm relationships and work with the competition. We are just at the beginning of this but there is so much we need to do​.” 

Vallejo added, the differences in sustainability is not black nor white. 

We provide recommendations and rules for sustainability guidelines. I don’t see the point of SUP for the environment and I hear a lot of different things regarding bio plastic and recycled plastic. We publish our standards based on what we think is the latest scientific data, it’s not perfect and there is still much progress to be made. We need to create a market so it becomes a reality but we are in a transition phase​.”

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