Delivering Sustainability: Setting Brands in Motion

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of environmental, social and governance (ESG) considerations, with the pursuit of sustainability gaining momentum across all industries. The consumer products industry, from manufacturing to distribution – as well as the gigantic licensing industry – has a pivotal role if ESG policies are to succeed. Given the wide reach of the licensing industry, encouraging everyone in the value chain to deliver sustainability is without doubt very challenging yet important.

Products of Change (PoC), a UK‑based business community founded in 2020, aims to bring together everyone in the consumer products value chain to act on ESG. It supports brands and companies prioritising their commitment to sustainability by pooling industry players through an ‘educating to inform change’ approach and peer‑to‑peer networking.

To get a better view of the sustainability of the consumer products and licensing industry and how industry players are answering the call for more sustainable changes, HKTDC recently talked to Helena Mansell‑Stopher, PoC’s founder and CEO, the full article of which can be found at the HKTDC Research page.

PoC is a business community membership platform and an educational hub of sustainable learning. We nurture our members in many ways, from intelligence sharing in our weekly newsletters, peer‑to‑peer learnings and webinars, to research publications, live workshops and certificated online educational modules. We work with licensors, contract manufacturers, retailers and a wide range of businesses that support the industry to develop our sustainable education goals and sustainable learning materials across a broad range of topics, markets and product areas. We are also a safe and impartial platform enabling members to connect and interact with each other regarding their best ESG practices. Our members come from diverse backgrounds, and can freely connect with other members on our platform, which boasts a one‑stop service for peer‑to‑peer networking and sustainability learning resources to help look for cross‑product, cross‑sector and/or cross‑country collaboration and knowledge sharing.

Members can connect with each other and utilise sustainability learning resources on the PoC website.

Sustainability Regulatory Changes Ahead

Indeed, legislative changes are the most effective way to drive sustainable transformation in industry operations, and different legislative changes have been rolling out across Europe to uplift sustainable industrial practices. For example, the European Green Deal and Circular Economy Action Plan are currently underway with a wide range of actions covering all sectors of the economy. Many different green taxes have been introduced, the latest one being the UK plastic packaging tax, which is designed to discourage the use of single‑use plastic packaging and advocate recycling and the collection of plastic waste.

Climate change resulting from excessive greenhouse gas emissions has been another critical issue to tackle on the global roadmap to net zero, where most – if not all – governments have set out different decarbonisation milestones. We will see a sprouting up of prospective regulations around carbon disclosure – a price on carbon and a tax levied on carbon emissions – in the coming years.

Governments across the world are tightening up their regulatory requirements progressively and gearing up all industries for their ESG journey. Along the pathway to sustainability, some leaders within the industry are committed to going beyond the regulatory requirements or the basics with the aim of becoming a pioneer and role model in steering the way for the industry to work in the future. To this end, we are already observing an “ESG race” between retail, licensors and contract manufacturers.

Main Focuses in Developing Sustainability Strategies

Carbon footprints have been one of the primary focuses for businesses in the advancement of their sustainability strategies. We have noticed that many retailers and brand owners have signed up for voluntary initiatives such as the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi), which promotes best practices in emissions reduction and provides independent expert assessments and guidance for companies looking to set their own science‑based emissions targets.

Many businesses have also put in place different waste, water, sourcing and circular economy strategies to complement their actions around carbon emissions and form a more holistic ESG strategy. It is important to understand that the transformation of how an industry operates is a long‑term process, and the impact on sustainability may take time to come to fruition.

SBTi is one of the best‑received global consortia promoting science‑based climate action targets.

Difficulties Facing PoC Members in Their ESG Journey

The biggest factor deterring companies and brands from starting their ESG journey is a lack of knowledge. When it comes to the very fine details of ESG planning and implementation, businesses usually do not know what to do, how to measure their sustainability performance, or what the positive impacts of sustainable practices are. Many businesses perceive sustainability as something that costs money; in fact, for the majority of companies and brands we have worked with, sustainable practices are actually saving them money as resources are being allocated and used more efficiently.

Differences in ESG Deliverables Across Markets

With stronger commitments and more forward‑looking policies, Europe is by a long way the pioneer and leader in ESG and sustainable development, with the Nordic countries being the long‑time champions. Given the differences in business nature and market peculiarities, the discrepancy in sustainability can be huge, even within the same market or industry.

Mandatory regulations and industry practices are evolving over time and stakeholders are exploring new, innovative ways to exemplify sustainable development. In the UK, for example, the food industry was the first to be regulated back in 2007 with an Extended Producer Responsibility Scheme, which has recently been revamped to a Packaging Recovery Notes system, extending the regulations from food to all consumer goods packaging. The fashion industry has also been a leading player, with material innovation and circular practices. Other industries are catching up fast in various other facets.

PoC's Sustainability Next Steps

Although the headquarters of PoC are in the UK, we always aim to provide support and recommendations to our members from not only a local and narrow but a macro and global perspective.

Going forward, we would like to extend our retail network and continue our international expansion into Asia (including Hong Kong and Mainland China) and South America. Expanding our network would enable us to incorporate a broader spectrum of sustainability practices and build a more vibrant community of sustainable champions, which provides more value for our members.

In the meantime, we are working on our core guideline documents with experts from the industry. There is a huge knowledge gap within the industry, with many misconceptions about sustainability and a lack of technical know‑how when it comes to daily implementation. We aim to educate our members with our core guideline documents to enable different stakeholders in the industry to embrace and enforce sustainable practices in a proper, effective manner. We are also building various systems and protocols supporting the sustainable future of the consumer products industry. 

We launched our first magazine this summer to publicise industry innovation and the advancement of sustainability campaigns in the consumer products and licensing industry. We are happy to see the industry is in transition, and the first PoC magazine reflects the amazing ESG efforts the industry has made so far. 

PoC magazine: a new avenue to proclaim the advancement of sustainability campaigns in the consumer products and licensing industry.
Helena Mansell‑Stopher, PoC’s founder and CEO. Recently Director of Licensing at National Geographic UK, Helena has been driving sustainable change for a number of years. She has successfully completed the University of Cambridge’s course in Business Sustainability Management as well as Circular Economic Business Practices from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

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