Footprints And Your Steps On This Planet

April 22, 2021

On #EarthDay it felt right to reflect on some of the work we have done over the years on sustainability and measuring impact on the planet. From trying to find (good) solutions to single use plastic, to working with Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) on measuring carbon footprint, with some very clever lifecycle analysis.

Can you really move away from single use plastic?

Single use plastic is something that is hotly debated. And something that we feel strongly about too. Many brands are trying to do the ‘right thing’ when it comes to carbon emissions, environmental impact and single use plastic, even as an on-cost to the business. And yet, for every right move, there is also a wrong move.

At Bodhi and Co. we’ve worked with some incredible experts in this area. From Massachusetts Institute of Technology – MIT, and Professor Randy Kirchain (Co-director and principal research scientist at the Concrete Sustainability Hub), to A Plastic Planet, Carbon Trust and City to Sea. All these organizations advise companies, brands and organizations on how to tackle sustainability and ways in which to do this.

The reality is that changing from one material to another takes a lot of research, testing and consideration. You have to consider so much more than just the materials and what is for example food safe. Things are changing fast in this area, but things aren’t all changing at the same speed. Which is adding to the complexity of what the right thing really means. Let us explain more using examples:

Pieminister, UK – reducing single use of plastic

At Pieminister (the fabulous and delicious pie brand), the brief was very simple. To remove all single use plastic from their packaging and to claim 100% plastic free. So this included a window to the product, a plastic tray to hold the product and even thinking about the glues used to stick down the sides of the box (carton).

New materials – NatureFlex, Clarifoil

There are lots of new materials on the market than can be used to replace plastic – especially things like a plastic window or clear sleeve for food packaging. Natureflex is a great material that’s made from wood pulp, but that looks like a very thin plastic. It’s flexible and can be used to replace any plastic sleeve or bag too. TeaPigs have used this now for a few years, as part of their card and translucent packaging. Clarifoil is also another substrate that’s becoming more popular that is wood based. However, with these new materials does come some challenges when it comes to end of life. More on this shortly….

MIT lifecycle analysis – Dyson US

When working on the Dyson Airblade™ hand dryer, the environment was a huge part of the value proposition, particularly when going head-to-head with paper towels and their huge dominance in the US. So, we set up a partnership with MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) and their leading sustainability advisors and gave them access to the entire supply chain and data around the product, to really do the most in-depth lifecycle analysis possible. (I will never forget the feeling when MIT… yes MIT actually responded to my email to say there were interested in working with us. It was like Christmas and skipped around the office for days!)

As well as oodles of data, they also had access to the environment engineers, which gave them huge insight into the consumer goods manufacturing world. From this, they measured all areas of the product lifecycle and the associated carbon emissions, from cradle to grave and all the moving parts in between. Dyson used this to make a commitment and to reduce their carbon footprint (CO2 emissions) by 50% within 3 years on this product, which they did. It was a really pioneering and industry leading project and one that has since gone on to influence round-table discussions, lean engineering and more.

End of life requirements

One of the big challenges we faced as part of the brief for Pieminister, was insuring we understood exactly how to best dispose of the packaging at end of life, so we could communicate this to our consumers (as it’s something they care about, and rightly so). This was not an easy task. In the UK, most waste collection authorities and companies operate differently, so how something is done in Bristol could be completely different in Manchester. For brands with national distribution, this proves a real challenge. Second and disappointingly, whilst these ‘wander materials’ exist, the waste management companies aren’t as up to speed, and how they separate waste can’t always detect them. So what might seem like a really good and positive switch, actually could be greenwash and just as bad as plastic, if the waste collection companies think the material is plastic.

Less is more

The best thing you can do as a brand, is to just use less if at all possible. Pieminister did this in a great way. They removed the need for a plastic tray to hold the product and instead thickened up the pastry, so it was robust enough to stand strong in the box. Win-win. No plastic tray and more pastry pie for the consumer! (environmental product engineering at its best).

If you would like to read about the MIT research undertaken on hand dryers – you can read this here.

We still are as passionate about the environment and sustainability as we were back in 2010 when we first started working on this. Get in touch if you have a sustainability or environmental challenge that you think we can help with. We’d love to hear from you

Author Headshot

Dani Wilkinson

Dani has a passion for making brands sparkle. From Dyson vacuum cleaners to Pies, she built brands from the ground up and has a strong perspective from both high-level, to actual practicalities and how to get something done.

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