Has the cost of living crisis killed the focus on sustainability?
The environmental lobby has been getting progressively louder. From forest fires and floods, to droughts, heatwaves and famines, it has become increasingly clear that the world is losing in the battle against climate change. The concerns that were raised by scientists just a few years ago are now hitting the headlines as a crisis that’s affecting us all, and we have all been challenged with doing our part to defeat escalating waste and rising temperatures.
It’s been a call to arms that brands and retailers have taken very seriously; responding to their customers’ expectations on the one hand, and challenging their supply chain partners to deliver solutions on the other. As a printer specialising in packaging, we have been involved in those conversations, and we’ve been proactive in suggesting ways in which our customers can reduce waste and improve recyclability in response to their own customers’ concerns.
In the past, many consumers have been willing to pay a premium for more sustainable products, recognising the value in less wasteful production methods, shopping local and selecting recyclable materials. But much has changed over the past year. With the cost of living crisis squeezing the value of both the pound in consumers’ pockets and companies’ cash flow, is sustainability still top of the agenda?
Achieving sustainability through cost reduction
The honest answer, despite alarming headlines about the impacts of climate change, is that sustainability has probably slipped down the priority list for consumers. And for brands and retailers, the focus is on delivering products at a price point that their customers can afford, while battling rising operational costs. The good news, however, is that the need to fight for lower costs is helping to deliver considerable sustainability wins. Consequently, the sustainability agenda is progressing both because of and in spite of the economic distractions.
So how are we achieving sustainability goals when the game has changed to managing costs? At Herbert Walkers, one of the ways we have been keeping control of our costs has been to identify ways of saving energy in the face of higher energy bills. What began for us as a commitment to work towards net zero has become a mission critical cost management exercise. By monitoring our machines and looking at operational changes we have been able to reduce our energy consumption by 20%! It’s a clear example of how environmental and cost saving opportunities can go hand in hand.
It’s a similar story when we look at materials. For a long time, the talk when it comes to reducing packaging materials has been about cutting waste. Now, with board prices high and the need to keep prices as low as possible for consumers, those conversations are about how we save money on the unit price of a pack. It may be a change of focus, but the outcome is the same – we are being proactive in finding innovative ways of reducing packaging materials, which benefits the environment as well as the balance sheet.
The same benefits apply to design choices when it comes to finishes. At Herbert Walkers, our in-house finishing expertise means we have an enviable track record of delivering projects with a high-end look and a low impact sustainability profile. That experience means we are well-versed in offering our customers solutions that reduce the amount of foiling, inks and varnishes required to achieve the design intent. With more customers asking us for cost management solutions, we’re leveraging that expertise and improving the recyclability of packs at the same time.
Keeping sustainability on the agenda
Squaring the circle of rising costs and reduced consumer spending power may be the biggest driver for innovation at the moment, but sustainability is making considerable progress as a result. Just as the reshoring of printing requirements to overcome supply chain issues during the pandemic had a positive knock-on effect in reducing embedded carbon, the solutions we’re providing now to battle economic realities are building on sustainability gains. Indeed, the current environment is proving to be a catalyst for creative thinking that could have longer term sustainability benefits and it’s important to recognise the progress made and learn from this challenging period.