Columbia Sportswear wanted an environmentally sustainable version of a clear plastic shipping bag for its new jacket.
Avery Dennison had a renewable version of the poly bag, made from sugar cane instead of petroleum-based plastic, on the drawing board.
Columbia approached the global packaging and label manufacturer for help and Avery Dennison went from prototype of the sugar-cane bag to finished product in six weeks.
“And when we looked at it from an environmental footprint of the product itself, it had a very favorable footprint,” said Helen Sahi, Avery Dennison’s senior director of sustainability. “On CO2 emissions, for example, it’s on the negative side because some of the byproduct of making the sugarcane resin is put back into the electric grid. We also looked at certification, how the suppliers were harvesting the sugar cane, whether they were growing it in the right areas, whether they were taking it out of the foodstream or not.”
This is one example of how Avery Dennison works with its customers — from fashion designers and apparel makers paper manufacturers — as well as its suppliers to rethink their approach to sustainable design and production.
In an interview with Environmental Leader, Sahi and Roland Simon, Avery Dennison’s vice president of global procurement and corporate sustainability, described it as a “think-tank” approach that it uses with customers and suppliers, as well as internally to advance its corporate sustainability goals.
“It’s a true partnership,” Sahi said. “It’s about where do you want to go, not just from a sustainability standpoint but also creating standpoint, and a design standpoint — really thinking about that entire product from cradle to grave. When you are working together and have this dialogue you come out with a much more sustainable product. And we can’t do that without our suppliers and customers.”
A key piece of this think-tank approach for customers is Avery Dennison’s Customer Design and Innovation Centers. The company has four globally, three of which are in the US. These are creative labs of sorts where apparel brands and designers come to collaborate on sustainable materials for products, tags and packaging, and those that reduce waste such as the dissolvable labels used by pro surfer Kelly Slater’s Outerknown menswear brand.
Conventional hangtags may be recycled by consumers, or they may end up in landfills. These dissolvable tag can be thrown in the washing machine and they go away. They’re made from a cornstarch base that doesn’t come out of the food stream, clog septic systems or affect other clothing in the washing machine.
The company has also partnered with other retail giants including Nike and Patagonia and is a founding member of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, whose members include more than a third of the global apparel and footwear market.
In addition to its design centers, Avery Dennison’s Greenprint tool can help customers make more sustainable products by assessing environmental impacts, including natural resources used and greenhouse gas emissions and waste generated during the production process.
There’s also its Janela smart products platform that uses big data to allow consumers to interact with their clothing. This has sustainability applications as well. A consumer can use a smart phone to scan an item of clothing and see recycling information about what to do when the item reaches end of life, such as how to upcycle for reuse or where to find the nearest recycling center.
On the supplier side, Avery Dennison in 2013 worked with the Rainforest Alliance to develop a company-wide policy to promote responsible paper sourcing and procurement and grow its portfolio of Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified pulp and paper materials.
“The US is a huge producer of fiber but very little is certified fiber,” Simon said. “We engaged with the Appalachian Woodlands Alliance to contribute to more certified fiber in the US, working with them to raise awareness of good practices and also about producing pulp in a responsible way at zero additional cost.”
That idea that sustainability doesn’t have to cost more is also key.
“We established very early on that responsibility was not going to be at a premium, I it was going to be at price parity,” Simon said. “When our suppliers had challenges accessing materials or logistics issues where it might cost them more to get their hands on the materials, we worked with them to mitigate those issues. Today there’s a clear standard in the industry that pulp and paper will be FSC certified and it’s not going to cost extra money. Sustainability is good for business and it doesn’t cost you more to do business the right way.