At the beginning of this year, UPM Raflatac announced its ambition of being the world's first label materials company beyond fossils. This means we aim to reduce or replace virgin fossil sources of carbon that add a burden to the carbon cycle. We will do this by applying the principles of reduce, recycle, renew, and reuse in all our operations from responsible sourcing, sustainable operations, and logistics all the way to innovative products and services.
To understand what it takes to reach our ambition and the transformation that needs to take place in the whole packaging industry, we need to investigate what’s next for both, the packaging industry and UPM Raflatac.
Riding the megatrends
Global megatrends are increasing the demand for sustainable and climate-friendly products. Three megatrends, namely the growing middle class, climate change, and resource scarcity are all shifting consumer behavior and demands all around the globe. This raises the stakes for the whole packaging value chain – we need to set our ambition level much higher.
Timo Kekki, Head of Global Films and Specials business at UPM Raflatac, is confident the company is on the right track and making good headway in switching from fossil-based carbon to renewable and recycled raw materials and from a linear to a circular economy.
“A radical change will be happening in the packaging industry in the next five to ten years. As the industry is growing, the need for more sustainable labeling also increases. We are speeding up this development by continuously raising the number of biobased and recyclable packaging solutions on the market. In addition, we continue developing innovative label solutions that enhance the recyclability of the primary package. This is what we call the Switch and Loop approach. From a climate perspective, we are in a unique position to provide innovative solutions to our customers and brand owners that help them meet their climate targets,” says Kekki.
These trends are starting to be visible on retailers’ shelves. A label not only conveys hard data of what is on the inside, but it is also a platform for brand owners to showcase the product’s sustainability features. Whether the content or the package itself is a climate-friendly choice, it has to be easy for consumers to spot the sustainable option on the shelf, and natural for them to choose with their conscience. The increase in demand for sustainable options fuels the entire transformation of production and sourcing.
We have a good head start
UPM Raflatac has already taken big steps to make its production more sustainable. Six of its ten factories are fully powered by renewable electricity, and the company has reduced its factory greenhouse gas emissions by 47% since 2015. A high share of UPM Raflatac’s products use certified materials from forests that are managed as carbon sinks – and this number will keep rising in the future.
We are continuously reducing the use of materials and energy, increasing the use of renewable and recycled raw materials, and enhancing recyclability or reuse. UPM Raflatac Ocean Action, ForestFilm™, RAFNXT+, Linerless, RafCycle™, and Label Life are examples of products and services we have already launched to help our customers reduce their climate footprint. And we have exciting developments in the pipeline.
“We believe we will be able to grow the number of biobased and recycled raw materials faster than an average producer and offer these solutions to our partners. This will speed up the change in the industry further and raise the demand for our products,” explains Kekki.
“We want to take an active role in driving the change and to collaborate with scientific institutions and other partners to reach the biggest possible positive impact on climate and people. Often, the question is how to transform lofty goals into practical solutions.”
Packaging a better future
Uwe Melichar, a sustainable packaging expert, designer, and Pentawards jury member, is also a strong advocate for sustainable packaging. He is positive the discussion around sustainable packaging will grow louder in the future.
“Consumers are now willing to pay more for sustainable products, including packaging, but the problem is that sustainability information is not always clearly presented to the customer. There are already good initiatives, but also strong demands for transparency about carbon footprint for example. Nowadays a package doesn’t have to feel inferior compared to one made of virgin sources to be climate-friendly. In fact, a sleek but sustainably produced package might have a much smaller environmental footprint than one that is designed to ‘feel sustainable’ in hand.”
Whether increasing the use of renewable and recycled raw materials or enhancing the recyclability or reuse, there is no one universal answer on how the packaging industry should mitigate climate change, says Melichar. He agrees that partnerships are key in packaging a more climate-friendly future. Activists are not alone in promoting the transformation towards more sustainable and climate-friendly products; the whole value chain is involved.
“There are varying regulations in European countries concerning recyclability. Efficient recycling calls for more standardization and harmonization in regulation, mono-materials, and climate-led design. Also, all the actors, meaning governments and regulators, NGOs, manufacturers, brand owners, and consumers must be involved in the transformation.”
From a designer’s point of view, it is an interesting task of combining sustainability with other factors, such as price, materials, and reuse. He also reminds that sustainable design extends beyond climate issues – inclusive design for example. The so-called silver age society is another topical design paradigm in packaging. He is confident that many of today’s questions can be solved using technology.
“Designers aim to make people think beyond borders, so the most interesting projects are the ones with restrictions. At the same time, the product must be flawless and most importantly be good for the planet. Concerning materials, it is not only a discussion about which material to use, but also what we do with the material.”
In the future, Melichar would like to see companies, such as UPM Raflatac, taking a more active role in fostering the discussion about sustainable packaging. He agrees that a radical shift is happening, likely in the next ten years.
UPM Raflatac is at the forefront of transforming the whole packaging industry’s climate impacts. Working together with our partners, we are on track towards creating a smarter future beyond fossils. Read how you can make a positive climate action with UPM Raflatac here »