Autumn Fair 2023 | POC leaves brands with big questions to answer

Autumn Fair 2023 | POC leaves brands with big questions to answer

One of the most thought-provoking questions businesses can be asking themselves right now is ‘are we ready?’ Innocuous enough, on the surface, but when we layer it over the conversation of incoming legislation and the introduction of new Extended Producer Responsibility laws, we may find the answer to be rather unsettling. Because the answer will invariably be ‘no.’

At least, it was when Products of Change took to the Inspiring Retail stage at Autumn Fair within Birmingham’s NEC this week, where the team delivered a double-bill session on industry sustainability and the pathway towards it.

The blame can’t lie with business, entirely. The UK government has kicked the can of environmental legislation so far down the road, it’s almost come round full circle (and the irony isn’t lost there). So, it’s with a sympathetic ear we can lean into the concerns that exhibiting brands now face as awareness of incoming changes starts to grow.

Diving deep into the legislative changes businesses operating in the UK and the European market face in the coming year – taking into account the introduction of frameworks such as the European Green Deal, the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive, and new Extended Producer Responsibility laws – Products of Change framed its discussion this week around the relaunch of a series of updated white papers created to tackle four of the most crucial topics within the wider sustainability conversation.

Products of Change Members can download those papers via the Members Hub. Alternatively, they can be downloaded via the Hyve platform.

Subject experts and POC Advisors, Mike Swain, Packaging Ambassador; and James George, Ambassador for the Circular Economy took to the stage to engage in discourse exploring theories around the Circular Economy, laws around Greenwashing, preparations to be made in alignment with incoming and current legislation, and the practices businesses really ought to be implementing if those national and international 2030, 2040, or even 2050 climate ambitions are going to be realised.

Part One of POC Double Bill sustainability session explored the relaunch of the POC Whitepapers and incoming legislative changes that will turn business on its head

Conversation took its usual structure, exploring the explicit need to move away from the linear principles of ‘take, make, and throwaway’ and towards more circular practices with aspirations of shifting to a circular economic model.

Products of Change founder Helena Mansell-Stopher explored the concept of Earth Overshoot Day – the day in the calendar year by which we have already used more natural resources than the earth can replenish in one year. According to the United Nations, at our current rate of consumption, we are using 1.75 planet Earths of resources per year. With the world’s population projected to hit 10 billion by 2030, that figure will only increase unless systemic change happens now.

“Which is what new legislative initiatives – like the European Green Deal, like the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive, and like the Extended Producer Responsibility laws are attempting to implement either now or in the coming months and years,” said Mike Swain.

Marking the third show for which Products of Change has partnered with Hyve Global to deliver sustainability educational content for exhibitors and visitors, this week’s discussion appeared to have marked somewhat of a watershed moment. Not only was attendance of the discussion the highest it has been since the partnership picked up, but audience engagement was a clear signifier that the subject of sustainability in business has – suddenly – become very real for brands.

One brand owner spoke for a vast majority of the consumer products industry when he expressed disbelief that the Extended Producer Responsibility laws, and by extension the eventual introduction of the Digital Product Passport, will mean a shift of onus onto the brand owner to supply the data relating to the amount and type of packaging his businesses sends out into the consumer space, as well as the traceability and accountability that his  brand and business will soon need to take that goes far beyond the traditional ‘presentation of a certificate upon audit’ mode of operation.

“This is how new systems are going to be built,” James George explained. “There is going to be whole new level of demand placed upon the traceability and accountability along the entirety of the value chain. If you produce it, whether it ends up in the hands of the consumer, in the Adriatic Ocean, or in landfill for the next 500 years, this new system means you are going to be responsible for that product.”

This is, of course, a complex issue. But it need not be a scary one and the more positive action business and brands can take now, the easier the process will be and the further ahead of the game they will be when it really comes to the crunch.

Part Two of the Products of Change Double-Bill brought the story to life by introducing three brands and Autumn Fair exhibitors within the Products of Change network: St Eval, MAI Clothing, and Fizz Creations – each of them reflective of varying stages along the sustainability journey.

The signed letter from none other than Sir David Attenborough taking pride of place on Tina Salt’s MAI Clothing stand.

Ian Greaves, the ceo of St Eval talked an afternoon audience through the candle business’ journey with B Corp accreditation, one the team secured in 2021 having launched into its journey of sustainable development with the installation of the ‘world’s quietest wind turbine’ in 2011 and subsequently the means to power the business through solar and biomass energy in the years that followed.

Meanwhiile, Tina Salt, founder of MAI Clothing spoke passionately about the purpose behind her business to support and raise funds for conservation charities through the production of children’s clothes made exclusively from organic cotton. Her efforts in the field have seen her recently receive commendation from none other than Sir David Attenborough in the form of a written letter that took pride of place on her show stand.

Finally, Zoe Ryan offered audiences the perspective from a brand that was in the process of making changing to its operations through the implementation of more sustainable design in its packaging and taking a more eco-conscientious approach to its product offering.

Each brought points illustrative of the scale of ambition and the size of the job at hand to work to decarbonise business and reduce impact, while doing good for people and not, as ST Eval’s Ian remind “at the detriment of profit.”

“Profit shouldn’t be vilified in all of this,” he said. “It’s only through making profit that we are able to make the positive impact we can – on our team members or the efforts we are making to cut emissions and measure and cut scope 3 emissions – a lot of what we are doing and our ambitions for 2030 wouldn’t be and will not be possible without continuing to make profit.”

POC’s Ambassador for the Circular Economy, James, made the point to highlight that while all efforts from businesses to reduce their scope 1 and 2 emissions (emissions that are directly under their control, whether bought or burned), scope 3 accounts for – on average – 95% of a business’ overall emissions. So, it is in the activity of aligning with the supply chain and landing on end-of-life solutions for products and packaging once they reach the consumer hands and beyond where the most critical work is to be done.

And while this may seem like a mammoth task, it is through cross sector and industry collaboration that headway can be made. It’s why Products of Change exists to bring businesses and value chains together to eke out a process and find a solution. It’s also why it really doesn’t matter if businesses are ready for the changes coming or not, what does matter is that we all begin to take action now.

“The saying goes, when is the best time to plant a tree? 20 years ago,” mused James at the close of the afternoon session. “When’s the next best time to plant a tree? Right now.”

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