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A year in review | Products of Change rounds up its biggest stories of 2021

Mon 20 Dec 2021 | 03:15 pm GMT
Rob Hutchins | Products of Change Writer

Products of Change rounds up its biggest stories of 2021

From beach clean ups to Brand Licensing Europe, Tottenham Hotspur Stadium tours to taking SILC to the next level; Products of Change rounds up its biggest stories from across the past 12 months.


Popeye rolls up his sleeves to take part in a beach clean operation to kick the year off in sustainable style.
You’ll remember January 2021 of course for the frayed nerves, long days of home schooling, hopes pinned on a UK-wide vaccine roll-out, and the moment that Bernie Sanders’ mittens sold for $1.8 million in a charity auction after becoming meme famous. Who says the world had gone covid crazy? It was also the month in which the United Nations declared 2021 as the International Year of Peace and Trust, the International Year of Creative Economy for Sustainable Development, and the International Year of Fruits and Vegetables. I thought my potatoes were looking particularly proud of themselves, and this explains it. In industry terms, the global entertainment powerhouse and toy maker Hasbro took the chance to launch its new Global Purpose Organisation to be led by Kathrin Belliveau and accelerate the firm’s efforts to make the world a better place. It landed the same month that the US rejoined the Paris agreement at the hand of President Joe Biden, while McDonald’s introduced the plastic-free Happy Meal. A triumphant start for the sustainability agenda, it would seem. However, discoveries made by the University of Maine concluding that ‘forever chemicals’ were to be found in snowfall on Mount Everest served as the sober reminder that swift action was the only response to ongoing issues surrounding climate and the environment. Brands leapt into action, and the Popeye brand flexed its muscles once more to up tools and take up its first beach clean activity of the year in its own bid to aid with the restoration of nature.


The SUSSED poster remains just part of Kelvyn Gardner's legacy to the licensing industry.
Having joined the Business for Nature pledge the month prior, momentum continued to gather for our own platform as Products of Change played host to its very first Sports Meeting. Led by the POC sports ambassador, Simon Gresswell, the meeting brought together individuals from the likes of Liverpool FC, Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea FC, and Man Utd FC who all managed to keep their friendly rivalries at bay for the event – surprising, considering that this very month, Tottenham Hotspur had just received confirmation that it was officially the ‘Greenest Club’ in the Premier League, making it the table leader… While the mainstream media did its best to paint a pretty bleak picture of the world, and as wildfires spread across Perth, Australia, and schools remaining closed across England, the drive for sustainability and a sustainable future never lost sight of its optimism. Nowhere was this better highlighted than at Carousel Calendars who, through a new sustainability pledge, highlighted that the small changes made throughout its business all contributed to a larger picture. Meanwhile, Tesco opened the doors to its ‘greenest superstore’ to date, as the UN showcased the power and reach of video games in its Playing for the Planet 2020 impact report. The campaign had managed to reach 110 million people through in game activations that each held sustainability messaging at their centre. In fact, the entertainment space was fizzing with developments this month as the toy subscription service Whirli celebrated an investment of £4 million in seed funding to expand its operations. February also saw Products of Change honour the memory of the licensing legend Kelvyn Gardner with the release of the SUSSED Poster, a concept largely developed by Kelvyn as a means of bringing simple, sustainable steps into the workplace through graphics. SUSSED remains just a small part of Kelvyn’s legacy to the licensing industry today.


The UK's kids magazine industry works together to overhaul its sustainability measures.
Parents among you will remember March 8, of course, for the large collective ‘sigh’ it brought with it, as schools across England reopened and a semblance of sanity was restored. Taking the chance to act upon the shift in the cultural consumer mind-set, retailers and brands began to introduce new means of circularity into their offering. George at ASDA even launched a totally new clothing recycling scheme in partnership with Yellow Octopus Group that incentivised customers to return their unwanted clothing and home textiles in return for a 10 per cent off voucher for George.com. Meanwhile, the frozen foods specialist, Iceland made its pledge to hit net zero by 2040, while the Australian footwear brand, UGG launched its first plant-based collection. Products of Change member, Danilo hit the headlines when it moved to reduce cello wrap on its greetings cards by a whopping 85 per cent, and University Games set out to reduce the single use plastic across its portfolio. The biggest story of sustainable success this month emerged, however, from the children’s magazine publishing space. The focus of a school-led petition to over haul its approach to plastic toy covermounts, a collective effort was mobilised across the publishing industry to address the concerns and reduce its environmental impact. To date, the action taken by all UK children’s publishers is a measure of what can be achieved by collaboration. The ‘event’ provided a wonderful reflection of the voice of the next generation and its power to demand change, as well as the benefits of coherent action across industry in order to implement it.


UKIE and Games London partner to launch the Green Games Guide this month.
Proving that peer-to-peer positivity is the winning formula, Products of Change hit a membership milestone this month. While the sustainable party streamers were let loose and mugs of tea were raised in honour of the achievement, all eyes were quickly trained on the next marker in the road for the platform as it continues its mission to drive positive change across licensing and beyond. On the global scene, milestones were equally being met. Walmart made its pledge to protect some 50 million acres by 2030 an official one, while unlikely allies, the US and China reached an agreement to co-operate on addressing the Climate Crisis. In the US, a record-breaking price of $3.25 million for a comic book was reached as Action Comics #1 – that introduced Superman for the first time – sold at auction. Products of Change subsequently briefly contemplates launching its own comic series… Another notable partnership this month involved the video games trade organisation, UKIE and Games London who came together to launch the Green Games Guide, the UK’s first resource to enable those in the games industry to start reducing emissions and waste across their operations. As a member of the Playing for the Planet initiative, UKIE underscored its commitment to going Carbon Net Zero by the end of 2022.


Mattel makes the headlines by launching its PlayBack toy take-back programme in the US.
While it was another pointless defeat for England at this year’s Eurovision Song Contest, May marked a major win for humanity when in a landmark case this month, oil giant Royal Dutch Shell was ordered by a Hague court to cut its global carbon emissions by 45 per cent by 2030. On a more local level, the month was kicked off with new commitments from Penguin Random House to build on the carbon neutrality already achieved across its direct operations to become climate neutral across its entire global value chain by 2030. Meanwhile, the international toy maker, Mattel took a step towards the circular economy with the launch of its PlayBack programme. The toy take-back scheme allows families to send back their well-loved toys to see them recycled and witness the materials used to make new toys, and was billed as a mark of the firm’s ‘innovative thinking’ when it comes to driving sustainability across the toy industry. On the party scene, Amscan appointed Raluca Runcianu to the new role of Group Sustainability Manager in a reflection of the firm’s commitment to the cause and the measures taken to introduce better sustainability across its foil balloons, latex balloons, and costumes. In what proved to be a busy month for sustainability announcements, the fashion brand Oliver Bonas detailed its partnership with Re-Fashion to help customers recycled well-loved clothing and accessories.


Mattel launches its Barbie Loves the Ocean range of dolls made from 90 per cent recycled plastic.
Another milestone for Products of Change, this month saw the Sustainability in Licensing Conference once again take to the digital airwaves to deliver a two-day jam-packed line-up of speakers, roundtables and discussions from across the sustainability space, from retailers and licensors, to licensees and insight specialists. The event was opened by Eden Project who delivered a keynote address; just another feather in the cap for POC and its growing community, as well as the reach of the platform and the stories it shares. On the global scene, and in the US, Biden slammed Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge oil and gas leases into reverse, while the Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan pledges to save the country’s shores from a build-up of marine mucilage brought about by pollution and climate change. Elsewhere, the Danish toy maker, LEGO recognises that it’s high time it celebrated Pride Month with the launch of its Everyone is Awesome LEGO set, a product designed to celebrate the LGBTQIA+ community by taking inspiration from the iconic rainbow flag. While supermarkets were collecting salad bags, crisp packets, and biscuit wrappers, and Gemar announced the launch of a range of FSC-certified balloons, sales of refillable produce grew nine per cent at Waitrose, and UK Greetings revealed plans to offset all of its single greetings cards through the global conservation charity, World Land Trust’s Carbon Balanced Paper programme. If that wasn’t enough, Mattel was at it again, this time with the launch of its Barbie Loves the Ocean range; a line up of Barbie dolls each made from 90 per cent recycled plastic.


Products of Change founder, Helena Mansell Stopher hosts SILC21
SILC21 was hailed a success, Coca-Cola Great Britain had pledged to transition to 100 per cent recycled plastic across its 500ml or under bottles, and LEGO announced that it had successfully created a PET plastic brick prototype, made using the plastic from discarded bottles; by July this year, the sustainable conversation was in full flow. Across the EU, climate neutrality had just become law, increasing the EU’s 2030 emissions reductions target from 40 per cent to at least 55 per cent, while brands such as Peanuts Worldwide were preparing for National Tree Day in Australia. Sainsbury’s initiated its Flexible Plastic Collection and Timberland detailed its own take-back programme. Add to this the matter that the US had even mapped out its own plastic pathway, setting out to make all plastics recyclable, reusable or compostable by 2025, and the momentum of the sustainability movement had become a force to be reckoned with. News, however, that half of all cotton growing regions would be facing severe climate risks by 2040 should carbon emissions continue to soar, provided a firm reminder of the importance of taking action now. The analysis was billed a ‘wake up call for the cotton industry’ by Sally Uren, chief executive of Forum for the Future, who stated that ‘preparations must be made for the industry to operate in a very different world.’


Paris 2024 declares it will be the greenest Olympic event to date with sustainability at the centre of its operations
Wasting no time, Products of Change announced a global expansion with the appointment of new local ambassadors to fly the flag for the organisation across Canada, North America, and Australia. Andrea Green, owner of Globally Green Consulting, and Brenda Seto, an independent marketing and licensing consultant were both welcomed to their North America and Canada roles respectively, while Lian Huddle was brought on board to lead the conversation in Australia and New Zealand. With the announcement, Products of Change began laying the foundations of a period of new growth for the platform. Meanwhile, as the Tokyo Olympics get underway, the International Olympic Committee reminds the world about its own sustainability measures, while the 2024 host nation commits to delivering the ‘Greenest Olympics’ to date, with sustainability at the very centre of its operations. It’s a welcome note, considering the landmark UN IPCC climate report released this month detailing ‘Code Red for Humanity’ and stating that a climate change rise of 1.5C is now unavoidable. The same report, however, highlights that ‘catastrophic change’ can still be avoided, if the world works fast.’


Aqua + Rock's founder Dea Baker opens her brand's flagship store on London's Covent Garden.
Products of Change steps things up a gear once more, and as focus began to shift towards preparations for Brand Licensing Europe, the platform gets busy bolstering its own with the appointment of the toy and licensing industry editor and journalist, Robert Hutchins as its editor and community manager. Rob arrives amid a flurry of announcements for the platform, including new expansion into Europe with the appointment of Leonoa Aixas as its ambassador for Spain. While the spotlight was on the platform, Products of Change also took the chance this month to introduce the Sustainability Activation in partnership with Products of Change at Brand Licensing Europe this year. On the industry side, the global book publisher, HarperCollins joined the Wastebuster Recycle to Read campaign to supply books to participating schools. Alongside an extensive recycling project underway from Wastebuster, HarperCollins’ involvement would go on to bolster the work the campaign is doing with the National Literacy Trust to support the most deprived school in its network. This month also witnessed the sustainable fashion brand Aqua + Rock open its flagship store in London’s Covent Garden where it also officially launched its partnership with Discovery Inc on a newly developed, bio-circular leather trainer. September also saw the world’s focus begin to train on the UK, and in particular Glasgow, where at the end of next month, global leaders would convene, and leaders in sustainability would congregate, to take part in discussions during COP26 – an environmental summit set out to deliver solutions to the Climate Change Crisis.


The Products of Change Sports Meeting gets treated to a tour of the Tottenham Hotspur stadium
October well and truly marks a fashionable month for sustainability as the Natural History Museum partners with Desmond and Dempsey to launch a new range with sustainability ‘at its core,’ fashion retailer H&M partners with actor John Boyega to launch a new sustainable line, and Smiley unveils its 2023 Future Positive Campaign. All the while, brands across the country are taking their sustainability efforts up a notch in preparation for COP26 at the end of the month, with notable campaigns coming from the likes of Extreme E, the Wombles, and LEGO. Things step up a gear for Products of Change, too who this month hosts its first in-person sports meetings at none-other than the Tottenham Hotspur stadium. As members from across the POC sports community descend upon the grounds, we are treated to a presentation from Tony Stevens, head of PR at the Club, as he talks us through the vast sustainable measures being implemented across the stadium, training grounds, and even the team itself. Elsewhere, circularity is brought to London’s High Street with the announcement that Selfridges will partner with The TOY Project to sell second hand toys to families and children this Christmas.


Products of Change rounds up its best moments from Brand Licensing Europe 2021 in picture form
With COP26 now underway, hope-filled headlines begin to give way to calls for greater urgency from world leaders in the actions taken and pledges made by those in attendance at the global climate summit in Glasgow. Despite the heartfelt speeches delivered throughout the event, it becomes clearer by the day that change will be led by businesses and communities first. It’s a reality recognised by many across the industries, particularly sport who, during the summit, addressed the role it has to play in inciting change and the platform from which it can voice the importance of doing so. The role that brands have to play in delivering the message of sustainability becomes ever more pronounced, and just in time for Brand Licensing Europe, where Products of Change showcases just a smattering of the partnerships and efforts being made across products development, licensing, and retail to drive change at a consumer level. After months of preparation and organisation, the Sustainability Activation in partnership with Products of Change is hailed a roaring success and a major attraction of the 2021 trade show that makes its triumphant return to in-person meetings after its covid-hiatus. Products of Change also uses the event as the platform from which to launch exciting new research from its Children’s Market ambassador, Gary Pope, that reveals the need for more circular solutions for families and parents eager to support the sustainability cause. Also present at the show is Products of Change’s line-up of Advisors who form a new arm of the POC offering in helping companies adopt greater sustainable measures. ABBA also releases its first album of new material in 40 years and tops the UK’s album chart. It’s worth a mention.


The Viacom UK team show off their early Christmas presents courtesy of Products of Change.
As the year draws to a close, attention turns to the circular economy as retailers, brands, and innovators working between the two showcase new ideas around closing the loop and keeping products in the value chain this Christmas. It’s kicked off by George at Asda who launches a national ‘treasure hunt’ for vintage Gucci clothing hidden in stores across the country. The campaign is launched in partnership with PreLoved Kilo to highlight the benefits of second hand fashion. Stateside, Products of Change takes on its own panel session at the Retail Brands Institute Sustainability Conference, where Brenda Seto chairs a panel made up of representatives from Walmart Canada, the Upcycled Food specialists Provision Coalition, Club Coffee, and Tesco. Here in the UK, meanwhile, and Products of Change’s first Sustainability 101 Workshop is hailed a major success, having been delivered to the team at Viacom UK to help kickstart new ideas for introducing circular systems and sustainable measures across the business. With things winding down for the Christmas holidays, Products of Change lines up its Recommended Reads for 2022, a list of some of the biggest and best books diving into issues of sustainability, circular economy and more, perfect for anyone no matter what stage on their sustainability journey they are. Products of Change closes the year wishing its members and readers a very Merry Christmas and looks forward to the phase of the platform’s mission to get underway in the New Year.
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