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A Look Ahead to a More Sustainable 2021

Jeff Wooster

December 9, 2020

5 Min Read

As we conclude a year that was defined by uncertainty, change and challenges, we’re moving toward what we hope will be a much brighter 2021 – especially in the area of building a more sustainable future. Looking ahead, there are many ways businesses and individuals can plan to transition to more sustainable operations and living, not just building back but building forward. Some involve bringing back into focus the areas that were paramount before COVID, while others take a deeper dive into new opportunities. I believe our commitment to the following trends will define our success in pivoting from challenges that held us back and help us to make next year measurably more sustainable than this year.

Re-Commit to Environmental Commitments

The pandemic put limitations on the business world’s ability to focus on long term goals, including their carbon footprints, forcing business leaders to reimagine their entire operations while working through a global economic downturn. Now that leaders have begun to figure out how best to operate in the new normal, they must also renew their commitment to more sustainable operations through public-facing goals and benchmarks.

In the past month, we’ve seen several industry titans announce ambitious new goals towards greater environmental stewardship and responsibility. One notable example is BIC, a world leader in stationery, lighters and shavers, announced that it will transform the company’s approach to plastic to improve its products’ environmental footprint and reduce the company’s carbon emissions as a result. The company committed that by 2030, it aims for 50% non-virgin petroleum plastic for its products and that by 2025, 100% of BIC consumer plastic packaging will be reusable, recyclable, or compostable.

Whether by reducing GHG emissions, stopping plastic waste or instigating efforts to drive toward a more circular economy, the private sector must make goals that are ambitious, attainable and most importantly, public facing. This will ensure transparency and keep business leaders accountable, as well as ensure they can course correct if commitments are not on track. At Dow, we too have affirmed our targets towards protecting the climate, closing the loop and achieving carbon neutrality, and I am confident that in this next year, we will continue to see many more companies do the same.

Place a Greater Focus on Developing Regions

In the developing world, where countries typically have fewer resources to deploy and, in some cases, larger yet much poorer populations, the challenges of the pandemic have been especially burdensome to the people living there. At the same time, these regions face a range of sustainability issues that won’t be solved by trying to copy what has already been done in more prosperous countries. That said, these areas are ripe for new opportunities and innovations, bringing new solutions that can be deployed around the world – with the proper strategic focus.

A key driver for sustainable growth not just in the developing world, but everywhere, is collaboration – creating change through partnerships between the corporate sector and local businesses, governments and universities. These unique partnerships leverage the breadth of resources that large companies can deliver with the local knowledge of regional entities.

Dow is actively engaged in several of these arrangements. One example is Project MASARO –a collaboration between Dow and Professor Zainal Abidin of the Bandung Institute of Technology – to create closed-loop, circular economies for waste in Indonesia. The initiative has converted several tons of plastic waste into fertilizer while educating thousands of students and teachers in proper recycling and waste management behaviors. In West Africa, Dow partnered with Omnik, RecylePoints and the Lagos Business School Sustainability Centre to recycle water sachets in a pilot program to advance the circular economy in the region.

These projects aim to divert and capture value from waste that would otherwise end up in the environment or landfill, while promoting sustainability-oriented education for local communities and waste entrepreneurs. In 2021, I believe we’ll see the framework established in these programs, and many others like them, expanded on a larger scale. This will have the potential to reduce waste management costs for local governments and relieve some of the burden on global recycling infrastructures.

Accelerate Innovation & Implementation

If the 2020 business mindset was focused on how to survive, the slogan for 2021 will be about how to thrive – and the key to achieving this will be innovation. This is especially the case when it comes to innovative solutions for advancing sustainability. From the use of enhanced plastic packaging to embracing advanced recycling to increasing the use of post-consumer recycled (PCR) resins, these kinds of innovations can and will prevail, we just need to foster an environment that promotes faster implementation.

One recent example is Kraft Heinz and how it has been designing for recyclability. By producing and utilizing the most effective materials to pack and protect their products and reduce food waste, the company has reduced its operational packaging impacts. Similarly, Suntory, a leading Japanese food company, recently invented a new PET recycling process that makes for a more efficient conversion from scrap to new plastic. Through their latest innovation, they are now able to take the flake from old bottles and convert it directly into the pre-form which is blown into new plastic bottles, eliminating several separate steps and making the overall process cheaper and cleaner.

We’re also seeing great advancements in the use of post-consumer recycled plastic (PCR). Logitech International, a design company and maker of cloud peripheral products, is using post-consumer recycled plastic (PCR) in more than 50% of its mice and keyboards. Their aim is to drive industry innovation and greater adoption of recycled plastic by providing full transparency on the amount of PCR in each product. Dow recently introduced its first recycled plastic resin for shrink film applications in North America, which will enable companies to incorporate more sustainable PCR materials while still maintaining application performance.

Overall, these are the types of advances that will help reduce carbon emissions, eliminate waste, and push the world towards becoming more circular.

Though this past year had unforeseen challenges with unparalleled impact, 2021 will be a year of growth and getting back on track for a more sustainable future. With global companies re-committing to their sustainability goals, emphasizing the importance of developing regions, and pushing unique innovations this coming year, we can look forward to not only returning to “normal” but also pushing boundaries to build forward and making a brighter future our new reality.

About the Author(s)

Jeff Wooster

Global Sustainability Director, Dow Packaging and Specialty Plastics

 Global Sustainability Director for Dow Packaging and Specialty Plastics

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