Blog: The interplay of traceability, sustainability and circularity

Earlier this year, one of our sustainability experts from the Innovation team attended the Greenbiz Summit in Arizona. Greenbiz is a conference that brings together around 1,500 sustainability corporate leaders from around the world to discuss the most pressing sustainability topics.

Lauren Phipps, Circular Economy expert at GreenBiz, Kate Daly, Managing Director from Closed Loop Partners and Deon Stander, VP and General Manager of Retail Branding and Information Solutions for Avery Dennison led an engaging and thought-provoking panel session, discussing the importance and role that tracking and traceability can play in enabling a more circular economy. It is clear that the industry is quickly evolving from the simple barcodes that consumers see on everyday products to smart, digitalized labels that are able to capture enormous amounts of product data on its journey from source to shelf and ultimately provide information to consumers on appropriate disposability routes, or even reuse. This sort of traceability, transparency and end of life guidance is increasing in importance for consumers as they to seek to make informed purchasing decisions.

Material passports

Traceability maps can support conscious companies transition from their current linear take-make-waste system to a circular economy; Kate Daly explained that these types of “digital identity and material passports are going to be critical in tracking materials so that waste remains as a resource.” She used the apparel industry as a prime example, as “currently, the fashion industry produces billions of products annually, of which 35% never gets sold and 85% ends up going direct to landfill”. The tracking ability of a material passport would aid companies in reclaiming this ‘waste’ and repurposing into new products.

Driving efficiencies with digital labels

By utilising labels to trace a products’ journey, brands can drive more efficiencies in their supply chain, significantly reducing inventory and shifting to a demand-driven industry. Avery Dennison have already launched a project doing just this with Ralph Lauren, already gathering data to drive efficiencies and further developing ways of how they can use the label to directly connect to the consumer.

The challenge of new technologies

It should be noted that when it comes to new technologies such as digital labelling there is always the challenge of unintended consequences when we put innovation first. However, technologies that enable sustainability and transparency should be embraced. Through collaborative collective action, brands can de-risk these technologies to provide more industry alignment that aid the shift to a circular mindset and business model.

Digital passports and the traceability of materials is a concept that adm are keen to support all our clients on. Although the application of smart labelling is still in its relative infancy when it comes to point of sale marketing materials, we are able to offer such solutions for textiles and plastic that provide clear, concise traceability messaging information to consumers along with appropriate disposability routes, or reuse opportunities.