Products of Change


Tue 11 May 2021 | by Helena Mansell-Stopher

Big Interview: Natural History Museum

Reducing the need for physical pre-production samples and instead looking to digital innovations is one way the Natural History Museum is becoming more sustainable. Maxine Lister is head of licensing at the Natural History Museum (NHM). We catch up with her on the practical steps the NHM is taking to become more sustainable, as well as the work she’s been doing with the Products of Change legal workstream around issues such as product sampling and packaging. How can the licensing industry become more sustainable? The Products of Change legal workstream group is looking at how we can create a set of guidelines for the global licensing industry to enable sustainable change over the next five years. It is looking at quick wins, what can be done in two years and what are the longer term plans, and how we track this progress. Quick wins include reduction of samples required, approvals moving to a digital process, the minimisation of packaging, removal of single use plastic, FSC paper/cardboard, use of vegetable ink and water-based techniques to name a few. The longer-term plans are as you can imagine slightly more complex and look at incentivising partners around how to exit products that are out of contract for instance and what is needed in terms of education around the need to change and understanding the circular economy. What do these changes mean for business and consumer? Firstly, this has the potential to have a huge impact on the environment in the longer term, the more businesses that effect change the larger the impact. Environmentally friendly practises are becoming increasingly important to consumers who are looking for products that align with their values. If you look outside of licensing, and for example in the retail sector there is so much innovation happening regarding sampling, that we should look to a future where physical samples are no longer required. How has NHM responded? What positive changes have they instigated? We have implemented a full review of the number of samples that we require and have reduced the number down to the minimum so that we can ensure that we are not requesting product be manufactured and shipped if it is not required. Obviously, we are a small licensing business compared to others but the more companies that review this then the bigger impact this will make. We have also reviewed how we sign off on product development and where we can we do this via high-res photography, filming instead of pre-production sampling being sent to the office. Of course, sometimes this is not possible so we have to have the caveat that this can be reversed but this will help reduce a significant number of individual packages being sent to us and all the impacts that this brings with it, such as the packaging itself, carbon emissions from transportation. We also discuss sustainability in terms of packaging and our minimum requirements (BCI cotton, no shaped swing tags, food welfare) well before contract stage with any new licensee so that any reservations on either side can be discussed openly. This along with the above changes means that licensees have a clear understanding of how we want to work, and I believe that this brings about strong relationships from the start. What partners are you working with and can you tease anything else you may have in the pipeline? We are excited to work with licensees and brands who have the same ethos as us and Finisterre is a great example of this. Its passion to build a sustainable fashion brand that aims to have as little impact on the planet as possible fits with our values. We have produced products such as swimwear in recycled polyester and ECONYL and used recycled polyester and organic cotton on apparel and accessories. Finisterre’s love of nature has shone through both collections, it has brought together stories from our collection which means we can inspire consumers as well as produce beautiful clothing. We do have some very exciting launches for 2021 and 2022 in the pipeline across many categories (some of the new to the Natural History Museum) unfortunately I can’t reveal anything now, but we are really looking forward to extending the licensing programme and how we talk about sustainable products over the course of the next few years with both licensing partners and consumers. We are lucky as we can also talk about the natural world as part of our programme and help create advocates for the planet in many ways. Why does the licensing industry need to be more aware of sustainability issues? Consumers will expect businesses and brands to take responsibility for what they are creating, as a multi-billion-pound industry we have a responsibility to understand where we need to be heading and how that impacts our planet and start to build dialogue to help us all get there. I believe we have an opportunity to take consumers on this journey with us to create more awareness and effect change and that is fantastic. Everyone can be involved whether it is in a small or large way depending on your business, but any change is a positive one. What action do you think we - as an industry - need to take? I think there are lots of different areas where we as an industry can affect change, firstly in education for the industry to ensure that we are all aware of current thinking which we can then in turn use to help educate the consumer. The industry should be working with NGOs to build new infrastructures which help protect our planet and educate our own businesses to affect internal change in simple ways from water use, recycling, heating our offices etc. We also need to look at parity in our legal requirements. If you were leading the crusade, would you put a time limit on this and, if so, what would it be? I think that is very hard to do as there are so many parts to our industry and advances in sustainability are moving at such a fast pace that change may come quicker than we think and some areas are much more complex than others, hence why we have short term and long-term goals. What we need to do is encourage best practice, build a community of like-minded individuals and companies, and share information which is why Products of Change is such a fantastic programme as it allows us to do that and ensure that the industry – whatever area you are working in – works together and helps educate each other. I would encourage as many people as possible to get involved as that will then bring about real change.   Maxine is taking part in the Green Room session at Brand & Licensing Innovation Summit, where brands and manufacturers will discuss the positive changes that are being implemented within their organisations in line with new legislation. The Europe edition of B&LIS takes place online from 9-11 June. Passes can be purchased at for £249 with discounts available for groups or Licensing International members (free for qualifying retailers).